Obesity in children is an issue that needs to be treated, which can put the child at risk for health problems in childhood and in the future life of the child. It can lead to early detection of health problems such as diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure, which are mostly seen in adults. Childhood obesity can be resolved with nutritional therapy. The biggest difference in nutritional treatment can be made by changing the family’s nutritional behavior.
What is Childhood Obesity?
Obesity , by definition, is an increase in body fat mass. Childhood obesity is the occurrence of this situation in childhood or adolescence. As the energy taken with food is more than the body’s need and this situation continues for a long time, the fat tissue in the body gradually increases. The biggest effect on childhood obesity is that it increases the probability of obesity in adulthood.
What Causes Childhood Obesity?
Although the most prominent factor among the causes of childhood obesity is nutritional behaviors originating from the family, it can develop due to many factors. These reasons can be listed as follows:
- Western-style diet in which fast food type foods are frequently included,
- Consumption of packaged foods containing high amounts of processed products,
- Sugary and carbonated drinks with high simple sugar content, which paves the way for diabetes and obesity,
- genetic predisposition to obesity,
- Some diseases that cause weight gain, such as thyroid hormone disorders,
- hormonal factors,
- Medicines or medical applications used,
- Frequent consumption of sweets and snacks,
- lack of physical activity,
- Increasing time spent in front of the screen
- Spending too much time with computer games
- Increased time spent at the desk due to exams and homework,
- Sleeping disorders,
- Not getting enough sleep at the right time
- Not acquiring exercise and sports habits.
It should not be forgotten that children take their parents as an example the most. This also applies to nutrition. The diet in the child’s environment will directly affect his health.
Risks of the Obese Child Category
Childhood obesity may increase the likelihood of some diseases that are more common in adults, also in childhood. These diseases are as follows:
Diabetes: Obesity causes insulin resistance, making it difficult to control sugar in the body and poses a risk for diabetes. Diabetes is not just associated with obesity. Food consumption habits of the child also affect the risk of diabetes. Packaged and processed food consumption, sugary drinks, foods with high simple carbohydrate content should also be reviewed in the child’s diet.
Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure: For an obese child, if the cause of obesity is a high-fat diet, this may cause plaque accumulation in the arteries and hardening of the arteries, and damage to the heart. In addition, the high salt content of snacks increases the susceptibility to blood pressure disease in the future.
Liver and Kidney Disorders: Wrong diet and excess weight can create a burden on the child’s body and cause damage to the organs. Fatty liver, which increases the risk of liver diseases in advancing age, can be shown as an example of organ damage.
Respiratory System Disorders: Health problems such as asthma, difficulty in breathing, difficulty in breathing control during exercise are frequently seen in obese children. If it appears as sleep apnea during sleep, diagnosis and treatment are important.
Bone and Joint Disorders: Excess weight in children causes pressure on bones and joints in the body. Joint pain, hip or back injuries may occur.
Social Risks: Children can be cruel to each other in this process. Bad behaviors such as physical criticism, making fun of each other, and peer bullying can lead to consequences such as lack of self-confidence, damage to self-esteem, depression and anxiety in children. It is important to get help from an expert child psychologist to manage this process well.
Diagnosing Obesity in Children
Diagnosis of childhood obesity is not the same as adults. The BMI classification used for adults is not used for children. The BMI (Body Mass Index) value, which is calculated using the height and weight values, is checked to see if the child is in the healthy range according to age and gender. This process should be done by nutritionists who are experts in the field. It is important to follow the child at regular intervals and evaluate the height, weight and waist circumference values by comparing them with their healthy peers.
Obesity Treatment in Children
The family has a great responsibility to combat childhood obesity. In obese children, the aim is not to weaken the child, but to give him the right eating habits.
Nutritional Therapy: Popular diet practices that cause rapid weight loss are not suitable for children. They negatively affect growth and development. Instead, it is important to give the child the right eating habits. The following changes can be made to the child’s diet:
- Replacing packaged processed foods with fruits and vegetables in snacks,
- Preferring foods that can be prepared at home using healthy cooking methods with the child instead of fast food with high fat content,
- Prefer healthy drinks such as ayran, freshly squeezed vegetable or fruit juices, milk, kefir instead of carbonated and high sugar drinks,
- The acquisition of healthy eating behaviors by all individuals in the child’s life,
- Replacing wrong dietary choices in school life with healthy alternatives,
- Carbohydrates with high starch content such as white bread, rice and potatoes should be reduced in the child’s diet and instead, carbohydrate sources with higher fiber content such as cereal breads, bulgur and oats should be increased.
- Milk and dairy products, which are effective for the growth and development of children, must be added to the child’s diet.
In this process, it should not be forgotten that it will take time to establish healthy eating behaviors. It should be realized how difficult it would be for children to stay away from harmful but very attractive unhealthy foods, and the child should be supported. A dietitian should be consulted.
Exercise: Exercise and sports are important to support both the bone health and physical and social development of the child. It also facilitates the weight control process. Some minor changes can be used to increase physical activity. We can list them as follows:
- If the school is within walking distance of the house, walking or cycling to school instead of using the car or bus,
- Putting a time limit in agreement with the child for the time spent with the computer, television or phone,
- To support the participation of children in sports activities, to strive not to put pressure on children to choose the most suitable sport for them,
- To popularize the use of stairs as a family, to participate in outdoor activities together, to spend time in nature,
- To plan activities to increase physical activity with other parents at school.
Sleep Pattern: Studies show that insufficient sleep time affects the hormones and disrupts the balance of hunger and satiety. This situation poses a risk for obesity. In order for children to have a more adequate and balanced sleep, families should not stay awake until late and set an example for the child. Sleeping 8-10 hours a day and coinciding with sleep between 23:00 and 02:00 is the healthiest for children, although it varies according to the age range. In case of difficulties in creating the necessary order at home, support from a specialist psychologist can be obtained.
In order to ensure that children are safe in terms of health in their later life, it is extremely important to intervene in childhood obesity and work with dietitians who are experts in their field. It should not be forgotten that the biggest reason for obesity in children is family-related, and if the child’s nutritional behaviors are to be changed, the nutritional errors in the child’s living space should be corrected first. Children’s height and weight should be monitored at regular intervals in the presence of dietitians who are experts in their fields, and their development should be closely monitored. Obesity treatment in children is carried out in our hospitals. If your child has a risk of childhood obesity, do not forget to make an appointment with our nutritionists as soon as possible.
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