As adults, we’re aware of the toll a desk-bound lifestyle can take on our bodies and mental health. A relatively new phenomenon, though, is the increasingly sedentary habits of children and young adults. Combined with poor diet, it’s leading to a rise in childhood obesity.
Childhood obesity is a growing concern in the United States, with about 20,000 cases diagnosed each year.
Currently, obesity in children is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) in the 95th percentile or above. BMI is calculated using one’s height, weight and age and therefore does not require further testing in order to diagnose obesity. That said, a provider may choose to check cholesterol, thyroid and blood sugar because these can be higher in people with obesity, including children. High cholesterol and diabetes are conditions associated with obesity and should be addressed immediately.
Parents can model good habits that children can take into adulthood.
The lack of children’s physical activity has roots in the evolving way young people interact with information, each other and the world. Phones, video games and even the disappearance of physical education from schools all have physical impacts that must be intentionally addressed.
Childhood obesity is usually diagnosed in ages 8 to 16, but need not be a life-long condition if addressed early. The condition is caused by a combination of factors that may include a history of obesity in their parents, lack of access to healthy food and lack of regular exercise. For children, obesity can cause a variety of physical and emotional symptoms, such as:
• Type 2 diabetes
• Metabolic syndrome
• High cholesterol and high blood pressure
• Obstructive sleep apnea
• Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
• Low self-esteem
If untreated, these conditions can last chronically into adulthood. The good news is that lifestyle changes are often the most effective treatment for obesity in young people, rather than medication or surgery which are often employed in adult cases. Children are generally treated by following a weight management and exercise regimen that allows them to grow taller without adding more weight (and thereby influencing BMI in a positive manner.) Of course, the best way to treat any condition is to take steps not to get it in the first place, especially when it is one that is heavily dictated by lifestyle and behavioral choices.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Parents can model good habits by eating healthy, mostly plant-based meals and incorporating physical exercise into family life. These are behaviors, along with managing stress and forming healthy relationships, that children can take into adulthood to stave off many chronic illnesses when put into regular practice.
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