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Childhood Obesity

What is childhood obesity?
Obesity means having an excessive amount of body fat. Overweight and obesity are officially defined using Body Mass Index (BMI), a scale that identifies healthy, overweight and obese weight ranges. For children, the BMI weight ranges also take into account developmental age and sex. A child is said to be overweight or obese when his or her BMI exceeds the healthy range for his or her age and stage.
Note:there are no definitions of overweight and obesity for children under the age of two. The best way to monitor children in this age range is to keep an eye on their growth and development using the standard charts and information about appropriate weight for age. It’s also important to discuss this with your child's doctor or maternal and child health nurse.
What causes obesity?
Obesity has a variety of causes but, put simply, it is caused by eating more energy than is used up. Obesity can be caused by eating too much or eating a lot of 'sometimes' foods.
These days we tend to eat larger food servings, we snack more and we consume more high-calorie, low-nutrition food. Problem foods include soft drinks, chips and lollies, and snack bars.

Inadequate physical activity is also a key contributor to obesity. In general children’s overall physical activity has decreased because:

  • Children are less likely to walk or ride bikes to get to places.
  • Parents are more likely to drive their children around.
  • Families spend less time outdoors
  • Many houses have small backyards
  • Parents, concerned about safety, discourage outdoor play both at home and in public parks.
  • Daily tasks around the house don't require as much physical exertion as they did in the past.

Finally, obesity is rising because children are spending too much leisure time in low-energy pastimes, such as watching TV and playing computer games.
What are the consequences?
Childhood obesity has serious consequences for children’s health and wellbeing, including:
  • health disorders: these include conditions that have in the past been diagnosed only in adults, such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease
  • emotional and social problems: these include teasing and bullying, low self-esteem, poor body image, eating disorders and depression
  • adult obesity: there are close links between adult overweight or obesity and obesity in childhood
  • physical health problems in adulthood: these include cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, cancer, infertility and skin disorders.

If obesity has existed since early childhood, associated illnesses and health problems are more likely to occur in adulthood.
Preventing obesity
There are three main ways to prevent overweight and obesity in your child:
  • Promote healthy eating at home: keep only 'everyday' foods in the cupboard, avoid or limit 'sometimes' foods, and talk to your child about health and nutrition.
  • Develop an active family lifestyle: you don’t have to engage in strenuous exercise all the time. Instead, make exercise a fun part of your family’s daily routine, for example, by walking to school or sport, kicking a football together in the park, or taking stairs instead of lifts or escalators. Getting active is a great way to spend positive family time together!
  • Limit low-energy activities: make some family rules setting boundaries on the amount of time you spend watching TV or playing games on the computer.
Remember that children do as you do, so it’s important to model an active lifestyle and healthy eating patterns.

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