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You probably have heard that there is an obesity epidemic in the United States (and in many other nations), meaning that the number of people who are very overweight has increased steadily in recent years. But did you know that this is a problem for children as well as adults? According to recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately one child of every three or four in the United States is overweight.
Although it may look easy to tell when someone is overweight, that isn't really true. In fact, obesity is not diagnosed simply by looking at someone, because each of us has a unique body shape that carries our weight in a special way. Being overweight means having too much body fat for a particular body shape. This is measured best by the body mass index (BMI), which is calculated by using a person's weight and height. BMI gives an estimate of the amount of body fat relative to lean body mass.
Since total body fat in children normally changes with age, BMI is then compared with age- and sex-specific standards based on large national surveys of children up to age 20. Based on the current recommendations of expert committees, children with BMI values greater than the 85th percentile for their age and sex are considered at risk of becoming overweight, while children at or above the 95th percentile of the sex-specific BMI growth charts are considered overweight.
Besides the social and emotional difficulties, being overweight puts children at risk of lots of health problems during both childhood and adulthood, such as orthopedic problems, sleep disturbances, menstruation problems and diabetes. Some researchers even think there is a relationship between asthma and obesity. In addition, children who are overweight are more likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, arthritis and certain kinds of cancer as adults.
If you think your child may be overweight, first talk with his or her pediatrician. After measuring your child’s height and weight, your child's BMI can be calculated and compared with the national growth charts. Knowing your child's sex, age and body type, the pediatrician can use these charts to see if your child is overweight. This can help him or her to suggest a good target weight range for your child.
If there is a problem, sit down together as a family and make a plan. The whole family must be involved, as well as any regular caregivers; children cannot do it alone. In general, the goal is for the whole family to get lots of exercise and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. The message to kids should never be, "You're fat and need to lose weight." Instead, it should be, "We all need to eat right and be active so that we can be healthy."
Here are some things that parents can do to help their children (and themselves) prevent and treat obesity.
To read more about preventing childhood obesity, visit InteliHealth