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Childhood Obesity: How Parents Can Help

Dr Nandakishore Dukkipati

 
As I walk into my son’s school to attend an annual celebration, it is immediately noticeable that a significant portion of school children are overweight.

This reflects the trend of weight changes in school children across most urban schools and so called ‘premier league schools’ in India. A hefty child used to mean a healthy, well-fed child. But, this may be another form of malnutrition. Unfortunately, while some children in our country are struggling with hunger and poor nutrition, we have another emerging problem…”The problem of plenty”. It is currently an acceptable norm to have overweight kids in well-to-do families.
 
Here are some sobering facts:
  • It is very likely that overweight children will become overweight adults.
  • The probability of childhood obesity continuing into adulthood is estimated to increase from approximately 20% if they are obese at age four to almost 80% by the teen years.
  • Pediatric (childhood) obesity is increasing at an alarming rate, making it a major concern for today’s youth.
  • Approximately, 15% of children in India, ages 6 to18 years old, are considered obese.
[Obesity is measured in terms of Body Mass Index (BMI), a ratio of weight (in kilograms) divided by height (in meters squared)]
 

Causes of obesity in children:
Causes of pediatric obesity differ from child to child and are still not fully understood. Factors such as genetics, environment and behavior seem to be the main causes.
Overweight children are at increased risk of developing:

  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Asthma
  • Orthopedic complications

Recently, at my practice, I was shocked to see a 14 year old boy with a weight of 93 kgs and severely hypertensive. Parents of this child approached for a possible weight loss procedure to help his overweight and hypertension. It is only a matter of time that he will develop type 2 diabetes and other conditions mentioned above, if nothing is done.

Our role as parents
It has been shown that children with overweight parents are more likely to be obese. Experts believe that this is a leading cause for childhood obesity. Regardless of how big a role genetics plays, one thing remains very clear…

Parents are responsible for a child’s genes, diet and behavioral patterns.
The goal for obese children should be to maintain weight or reduce the rate of gain. Excessive calorie consumption and lack of physical activity are two of the major culprits and are controllable risk factors. Parents should take a pro-active role by asking their health care provider or school authorities to monitor their child’s BMI periodically (a least once a year).
At home, remember that parents and caregivers are a child’s best role model. If you’re staying active and eating a balanced diet, your children are more likely to follow your lead.

 
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