Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Obesity in Children

Obesity in a child can best be explained when a massive increase in a child's body weight, caused by excessive accumulation and storage of fat, leaves them extremely overweight.

Children's little bodies store unused energy from food and drink consumption as body fat. If a child is very inactive and not burning up this extra energy, the fat which is stored multiplies.

Childhood obesity numbers are on the rise in many countries around the world. One in five Australian children and adolescents are either overweight or obese.

Although inactivity is a common cause and contributor to childhood obesity, there are a number of other reasons this health issue exists. These may include:

Diet - a poor diet which includes fatty and sugary foods.

Technology - spending long periods of time watching television or playing computer/electronic games.

Transport - our busy lifestyles cause us to use the family car rather than walking to and or fro our destination.

Genetics - some bodies use less energy than other or rare gene disorders can cause obesity.

To accurately diagnose obesity in a child between the ages of 2 and 18 a Body Mass Index (BMI) test should be conducted by a qualified healthcare professional. The BMI is calculated by dividing a child's weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared. Percentile charts (WHO or US-CDC) are used which give comparisons against the child's age and gender. If the child's measurements are more than 85% above that group, they are considered overweight, and if they are 95% above, then they are obese. It is extremely important that the same type of chart is used each time the child is re-assessed for optimum results.

Together with the BMI test a waist circumference measurement may also be taken if there is a concern of cardiovascular risk.

A child's history details should be taken into consideration to determine the factors which may have lead them to this obese state. Developmental and physical history along with mental health and health behaviours are key factors here.

There are a list of short term health risks which can occur with childhood obesity. Among the many are:

Diabetes (type 2)
Eating disorders
Orthopaedic issues
Liver problems
Respiratory disorders
Sleep apnoea
Mental health issues such as low self-esteem
Stress on bones and joints

Following the initial assessment of the child a further assessment may be required from either a paediatrician or a specialist clinic or possibly psychiatric services.

A particular medication called Orilstat can be prescribed to more mature obese persons, but it is not yet proven to be safe for children.

Apart from adapting a well balanced diet for an obese child, physical activity is also a crucial step in assisting with weight loss. The type of physical activity however needs to be carefully prescribed so to meet the capabilities of the child and much thought needs to be placed on minimizing the risk of injury together with any medical conditions they may have. Obese children may find it extremely difficult to participate in group sports and activities which require high levels of energy and mobility.

Walking is the most favourable of all exercises and not just for a distance or length of time. It is very important to incorporate walking into a child's everyday life. For example: walking to and from school to the shops or a friend's house. "Walk whenever and wherever possible."

A well monitored and supervised physical activity program beginning with around 20 minutes per day and increased to 60 minutes is a good guide for the beginners. A very low level of intensity and non weight-bearing is initially warranted with a goal of increasing caloric expenditure rather than cardiovascular fitness improvement. The time spent performing any particular activity is therefore more beneficial than the actual measured distance.

To avoid hyperthermia adequate hydration is very important whilst exercising.

One key point is to keep the obese child motivated throughout this challenge and it is therefore vital they are interested in the activity they are partaking in.

Support with childhood obesity can be sort from the following:

Family Doctor
Local Child Health Nurse
Dieticians Association of Australia (Tel 18008 812 942 -
The Royal Children's Hospital (Tel 03-9345 5522)
Accredited Practising Dietician
Raising Children Network (

Reference websites:
www.daa.asn-au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/childhood-obesity information/az-health-information/keeping-our-children-healthy-tackling-childhood-obesity