The number of Obesity and Overweight children in Australia has doubled in recent years, with a quarter of children considered obese or overweight. Causes of obese or overweight in children include unhealthy food choices, family eating habits and lack of physical activity.
This rise in the number of overweight children is disturbing because it causes health problems and can lead to social problems. Obese or overweight children are more likely to be teased by their peers or to develop low self-esteem or body image problems. Once children are overweight, it requires a lot of effort and commitment for them to return to a healthy weight.
Obesity and Overweight in children are among the most important risks to children’s long and short-term health. Overweight children are very likely to become overweight adults.
Childhood obesity Risk factors
Your body stores unused energy as body fat. To maintain a healthy weight, you need to Burn (or ‘use’) the energy from the foods you eat. If you eat more than you burn, your body will store the extra energy as fat.
Factors that may cause children overweight and obese to include:
- Lack of physical activity – Australian children are less active than they were in the past.
- Food choices – These include choosing high fat and sugary foods instead of healthier options.
- Spending a lot of time on sedentary pursuits – Australian children watch, on average, around 2½ hours of television a day, as well as spending time using computers and other electronic games. It seems that these pastimes are replacing active ones.
- Genetics – Some rare genetic disorders cause severe childhood obesity. In many other people, particular genes acting together probably make some children more susceptible to obesity. If there is a family tendency to become overweight, parents need to be even more aware of making healthy food choices for the whole family.
- Overweight parents – A family’s eating patterns can have a major influence on whether a child maintains a healthy weight. Some overweight parents may be less concerned about their children also being overweight than parents who have a healthy weight.
Childhood obesity is a worldwide problem
Levels of childhood obesity are increasing at alarming rates in many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. In Australia, one in five children and adolescents are either overweight or obese.
From 1985 to 1995 the number of overweight 7– 15-year-olds almost doubled. The numbers of obese children have more than tripled. At the current rate, it is predicted that 65 percent of young Australians will be overweight or obese by 2020.
Society has contributed to obesity
As obesity and overweight have become more common, there have been some major changes in how we live. These changes have led to people either eating more or becoming less active, all of which has contributed to an increase in overweight and obesity. For example:
- Portion sizes have increased.
- The use of cars has increased.
- The overall cost of food has gone down.
- More food is prepared away from home.
- The number of two-income families has increased.
- The time spent in paid employment has increased.
- Energy-dense foods and drinks are more readily available.
- Marketing of energy-dense foods and drinks has increased.
- The role of physical education in the school curriculum has reduced.
Obesity in childhood leads to obesity in adulthood
Overweight or obese children are more likely to remain obese as adolescents and become overweight or obese adults. About 80 percent of obese adolescents will become obese adults.
Health problems associated with obesity
Most of the health problems associated with obesity will become obvious in adulthood. Early signs of these later problems are commonly found in children.
Potential health problems for obese children include:
- liver problems, including fatty liver
- eating disorders such as bulimia or binge eating
- orthopedic disorders – problems with foot structure
- cardiomyopathy – a problem with the heart muscle, caused when extra effort is needed to pump blood.
- type 2 diabetes – while this condition is most commonly seen in adults, it is now also being diagnosed in children
- respiratory disorders, such as blocked airways and restrictions in the chest wall, which cause breathlessness during exercise
- sleep apnoea – this is a condition that causes difficulty breathing when sleeping. It also causes snoring, waking often and poor sleep. It makes people feel tired and contributes to poor concentration during the day
Social problems for obese children and adolescents
Obesity can have a major impact on how children feel about themselves and how they interact with others. Obese adolescents are more likely to have low self-esteem, which may impact on other aspects of their lives, such as the development of friendships and competency at school.
Being obese as a child or adolescent increases the risk of a range of diseases and disorders in adulthood, regardless of whether the adult is obese or not. It’s important to identify and start to reverse the condition before children become adults. Ideally, overweight and obesity should be prevented.