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Obesity is a serious, long-term disease characterized by an excess of body fat.

While it is challenging to calculate a direct measure of body fat, doctors utilize a guideline known as the body mass index to compare the standards for children of the same age and gender.

The Difference Between Obesity and Being Overweight

The difference between obesity and overweight depends on your child’s body mass index (BMI).

Overweight is defined as having a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile for age and gender. Obesity is defined as greater than the 95th percentile for age and gender.

Understanding the Cause of Childhood Obesity

Unfortunately, there is much to be learned in the science of how the body regulates weight and body fat. We know that if a person takes in more calories than he or she uses for energy, then he or she will gain weight—but this explanation does not apply for all cases of obesity.

For your child, their path to becoming overweight or obese is likely the result of a complex combination of risk factors. These risk factors may include:

  • Genes: Studies suggest that obesity is a part of a child’s genetic makeup form birth, passed down from one or both parents. Current medical research is making an effort to understand the connection between genes, a child’s environment, and an obesity diagnosis. If one parent is obese, this can raise the child’s risk for obesity significantly.
  • Metabolism: How your child’s body utilizes energy is unique to their metabolism. Hormones do not affect everyone the same way, but these factors play a role in weight management for children and teenagers.
  • Socioeconomic Factors: Studies suggest there is a strong relationship between economic status and obesity. Obesity is more prevalent among low-income people.
  • Lifestyle Choices: Overeating and a sedentary lifestyle are just two lifestyle choices that contribute to the rise of obesity. A diet mostly comprised of sugary, high-fat, and refined foods can lead to considerable weight gain. More and more U.S. families are eating out, and as a result, incorporating more high-calorie foods and beverages into their diets. Lack of exercise makes it difficult to maintain weight loss. In children, watching television, sitting at a computer, and other sedentary activities contribute to obesity. Many communities are not able to offer children a safe place to exercise.

Obesity Causes Further Health Complications

There are a number of health conditions that are directly tied to obesity. If your child is obese, he or she may be placed at an increased risk for these side effects:

  • High blood pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Joint Problems
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Respiratory Problems
  • Psychosocial Effects

Obesity-related health conditions cost billions of dollars and cause premature deaths each year. Parents can help prevent the cause of these conditions by actively working with their kids to combat the onset of obesity.

How Parents Can Help Fight Obesity

Despite the fact that your child’s genetic makeup may predispose them to being overweight, there are still many steps that parents can take to seize control of the situation. Here are some tips that parents can take to prevent overweight and obesity during childhood and adolescence:

  • Make a change to your family’s eating/shopping habits to get kids to eat healthier
  • Encourage increased activity levels rather than focusing on a target weight
  • Be a role model for your kids and find activities that you can both enjoy
  • Reduce screen time in front of the TV and computers to less than 2 hrs a day
  • Serve fat-free or low-fat milk and fresh fruits and veggies instead of soft drinks and snacks high in sugar or fat content

Understanding Your Child’s Treatment Options

Treatment options depend entirely on your child’s symptoms, age, and medical history. If your child is obese or overweight, your child’s doctor may suggest one or more of these treatment methods:

  • Diet counseling
  • Calorie counting
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Exercise program

Treatment for obesity often requires a multidisciplinary approach with the help of a nutritionist, mental health professionals, and an exercise specialist. These professionals can help you set realistic goals for your child’s treatment.

Amanda Votruba, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic 192 Dodge Pediatrics

Dr. Votruba answers your questions about child health and parenting. As a pediatrician, Dr. Votruba feels that seeing the kids every day is the best part of her job. With four children, including one set of twins, she enjoys sharing her experience and assisting parents through all phases of their child's life. She feels that by knowing the child's health history she can help parents and patients feel more comfortable and trust that she will take this into account. She has college students ...

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