Obesity in Children – Risk factors, diagnosis and treatment

Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. It occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height. Childhood obesity can lead to diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and can also lead to poor self-esteem and depression.

One of the best strategies to reduce childhood obesity is to improve the diet and exercise habits of your entire family. Treating and preventing childhood obesity helps protect the health of your child now and in the future.

Risk factors for obesity

  • Regularly eating high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, baked goods, etc can easily cause your child to gain weight. Regular intake of soft drinks containing sugar, candy and desserts also can cause weight gain. Foods and beverages like these are high in sugar, fat and calories.
  • Lack of exercise.Children who do not exercise much are more likely to gain weight because they don’t burn calories through physical activity.
  • Increased screen time. Children who spend a greater amount of time watching television, using the internet and playing video games are less likely to exercise and tend to eat more of junk food.
  • Family history.If your child comes from a family of overweight people, he or she may be more likely to put on excess weight, especially in an environment where high-calorie food is always available and physical activity is not encouraged.
  • Psychological factors.Some children overeat to cope with problems or to deal with emotions, such as stress, or to fight boredom.
  • Family factors.If as parents or other members of the family are eating high calorie food and you are regularly buying stuff like chips, cookies it will encourage bad eating habits in your child. If you can control your child’s access to high-calorie foods, you may be able to help your child lose weight.
  • Rarely certain genetic or hormonal diseases lead to obesity.


  • Type 2 diabetes.Type 2 diabetes in children is a chronic condition that affects the way your child’s body metabolizes sugar (glucose). Type 2 diabetes is caused in part by a poor diet, and can often be reversed by eating healthier foods and exercising.
  • High cholesterol and high blood pressure.Your child can develop high blood pressure or high cholesterol if he or she eats a poor diet. These factors can increase risk of  heart attack or stroke later in life.
  • Metabolic syndrome.Metabolic syndrome includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and excess abdominal fat.
  • Asthma and other breathing problems.
  • Sleep disorders.Sleep apnea, a condition in which your child may snore or have abnormal breathing when he or she sleeps, can be a complication of childhood obesity.
  • Early puberty or menstruation.

Social and emotional complications

  • Low self-esteem and bullying.Children often tease or bully their overweight peers, who suffer a loss of self-esteem and an increased risk of depression as a result.
  • Behavior and learning problems.Overweight children tend to have more anxiety and poor social skills. They may be socially withdrawn or be disruptive in nature. As a result their academic performance is also affected.
  • Depression.Low self-esteem can create overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and depression in some obese children. Depression is as serious in children as in adults.


  • Weight is not right criteria to diagnose obesity.
  • Body mass index (BMI) is needed to categorize a kid as normal weight, overweight or obese.
  • If the child’s BMI on the growth charts is between 85th and 94th percentile for his/her age and sex then the child is overweight.
  • If the child’s BMI on the growth charts is more than the 95th percentile for his/her age and sex then the child is obese.
  • Blood sugar and blood cholesterol tests may be ordered by your paediatrician if your child is obese.
  • Rarely if your child is eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly and is still obese, some special hormonal tests may be required to know the cause of obesity.

Treatment and prevention

  • For children under age 7 who have no other health concerns, the goal of treatment may be weight maintenance rather than weight loss.
  • Weight loss is recommended for children older than age 7 or for younger children who have related health concerns. Weight loss should be slow and steady- ranging from 0.5 kgs a week to 0.5 kgs a month, depending on your child’s condition.

Healthy eating

  • Provide healthier options. Foods, such as cookies, chips and prepared meals, are often high in sugar and fat. Always have healthy snacks available. Encourage eating of fruits and salads as snacks. And never use food as a reward or punishment.
  • Limit sweetened beverages,including those containing fruit juice. These drinks provide little nutritional value in exchange for their high calories. They also can make your child feel too full to eat healthier foods.
  • Sit down together for family meals: Discourage eating in front of a screen, such as a television, computer or video game. This leads to fast eating and lowered awareness of how much you are eating.
  • Limit the number of times you eat out or order for home delivery,especially at fast-food restaurants. Many of the menu options are high in fat and calories.
  • Do not keep junk and unhealthy food at home: If there is no access to high calorie unhealthy food at home, your child will be forced to try healthier options.

Physical exercise

  • Limit screen time to no more than 2 hours a day: This includes television viewing, internet and video games.
  • Encourage activity and exercise:Your child’s activity does not have to be a structured exercise program. Free-play activities, such as playing hide-and-seek, tug of war, etc can be great for improving fitness. Try and find stuff which your child enjoys.
  • Plan activities and exercise together as a family: Find fun activities that the whole family can do together. Go cycling together on a weekend or make swimming a morning family routine.

Emotional well being – Kids with obesity are more likely to have low self esteem and may suffer from depression. As parents it is important to help them cope with obesity with a positive attitude.

  • Be sensitive to your child’s needs and feelings: Let him or her choose what physical activities he or she is comfortable with and what diet plan will suit your child best.
  • Find reasons to praise your child’s efforts: When your child starts exercising or avoiding junk food praise him/her and offer small rewards (never food) like a new book, going for a movie etc.
  • Never scold or embarrass your child
  • Talk to your child about his or her feelings:Help your child find ways to deal with his or her emotions that don’t involve eating.

Very rarely medicines or surgery may be considered as options for obesity treatment.

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