There is a lot of discussion in medicine and in the media about childhood obesity and weight. Often, patients and parents ask me if all this concern is justified or worthwhile.

When I was growing up, I remember being taught that people “grow out and then up.” As kids, we were all just waiting for the part when we “grew up,” but increasingly, that is not happening.

Simply put, the answer is yes, the increased amount of attention and concern for the weight of kids is justified and is something we should care about. Here’s why.

What is obesity and why is it a problem?

Almost 1 in 5 children, aged 2 to 19 years old, experience obesity.

Experiencing obesity means that someone’s weight puts them at risk for specific weight-related, often chronic, diseases. In other words, obesity puts you at risk for diseases that do not go away and require treatment for the rest of your life.

Specifically, studies link obesity to anxiety, depression, asthma, orthopedic issues, cardiovascular disease (including high blood pressure), and type 2 diabetes. Each of these diseases, in turn, convey their own risk of injury and further illness. All of these are really big things to be dealing with at any age, especially the younger years.

How do we measure it?

We measure obesity with BMI or body mass index, which is a comparison between a person’s height and weight.

Specifically, when a child’s BMI is above 95% of normal for children their age, it indicates obesity. Fortunately, though, a child who has obesity, may not have it forever.

What can we do about it?

First, maintain contact with a child’s medical provider. These are the people that monitor a child’s growth and development and can recognize any early signs of increased weight or its consequences.

Second, though it is difficult, let us all be active and do our best to keep healthy diets! This means running around, playing sports, or just walking outside multiple days a week. It also means working to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and less fat and carbohydrate-rich foods. The best way to help weight loss is portion control!

Third, if we are very worried about a child’s weight, there are many specific interventions that can be offered from different team members of a child’s support system to focus on improvement in diet, exercise, and overall health. Practice makes perfect when dealing with weight management and keeping consistent interaction with providers leads to success.

Fourth, get plenty of sleep and try to limit the amount of time children spend with screens. Lack of sleep and a lot of screen time are both associated with childhood obesity.

Who can we talk to?

A child’s medical provider is a wonderful resource. Additionally, they can help you connect with many community resource,s including nutritionists and dietitians. These services are not only for children or people experiencing obesity, but for anyone who would like a little more guidance with diet, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle options!

Wyll Everett, MD, is a resident in the University of Vermont Family Medicine Residency Program.

References:

Screening for Obesity in Children and Adolescents: Recommendation Statement published by the USPSTF assessed via American Family Physician, October 15, 2017. Volume 96. Issue 8.

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