Childhood obesity has been more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, and this number is continuing to rise. In 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in the United States.,
This is a serious problem both in adults and in children. Overweight children are at a high risk of becoming obese adults, this puts them at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis later in life. They are also prone to social and psychological problems such as depression and low self-esteem.,
Causes of childhood obesity
Breakfast is the fuel that prepares the body and the brain to maintain a high function during the day. Skipping breakfast is strongly linked to the development of obesity, as this slows down your metabolism and reduces your energy level during the day. Some people skip breakfast because they eat a late supper or a large snack late in the evening. This leaves food in the stomach and keeps them full after they wake up in the morning. Others who skip breakfast may find an excuse of being busy. People who do not eat breakfast try to overcompensate later in the day with high-calorie foods that are high in sugar and fat, which likely leads to weight gain. More important, the brain is not getting proper nutrients such as serotonin on time, which is crucial to help stabilize the mood and prevent food cravings during the day.
Research suggests that children who skip breakfast show reduced alertness, reduced attention, slower memory recall and increased errors, and poor food choices for the rest of the day.
Healthy breakfast choices include high complex carbohydrates with an adequate amount of protein such as yogurt topped with fruits, omelet and quinoa cereal mixed with oats and hemp seeds. Protein helps raise the level of the brain chemical dopamine, which increases alertness and concentration. High-quality complex carbohydrate foods prepare the body and the brain for the energy needs of the day. Simple sugar and highly processed carbohydrates such as pastries and sugary cereals can negatively affect your blood sugar and energy level and make you feel a lack of energy, and worse than that, it drives up the cortisol level. Increased cortisol levels lead you craving for more high sugar and high-fat content foods for a quick fix, and this becomes a vicious cycle – the higher sugar and high-fat foods you eat, the more craving you have for these types of foods, which causes you gain more weight.
Leptin is a hormone produced in the fat cells. It signals the brain to reduce appetite and plays an important role of suppressing food intake, therefore, induces weight loss. Surprisingly, studies have shown that obesity is often linked to leptin resistance, which means high concentrations of leptin in the blood. When leptin is not working properly, the mechanism for regulating the appetite is impaired.
Your food choices can contribute to leptin resistance. Studies show that high fat and high carbohydrate foods lead to leptin resistance. When you have leptin resistance, your sense of satiety is reduced and your brain cannot tell whether your stomach is full or not, and this may activate craving pathways. Just like a car cannot tell whether the gas tank is full, so you constantly fill the tank with foods. As a result, you gain more weight. Leptin-resistance also causes you to crave more high fat and high carbohydrate foods, and this is driving the weight up and up. Worse than that, increased weight also causes leptin resistance and insulin resistance that affects your sense of satiety and impairs your skeletal muscle metabolism, which leads to more weight gain.
It is crucial to know how to influence children to establish a healthy eating habit because bad habits can turn into bad physiology, which not only causes the weight issue but also impacts their health condition in the long term.
Physical activity plays an important role in the prevention of becoming overweight and obese in childhood and adolescence. Today, many children spend a lot of time in front of the TVs and computers and being inactive. As computers and video games become increasingly popular, the number of hours of inactivity may increase. The majority or our children do not achieve the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day.
Children spend most of their time at school, so the availability of regular physical activity in school is critical.
Current studies suggest that long-term uses of antidepressants such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) including fluoxetine (Prozac®) and sertraline (Zoloft®), Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) including amitriptyline (Elavil®) and imipramine (Janimine®, Tofranil ®), also antipsychotics including clozapine (Clozaril®) and olanzapine (Zyprexa®) are associated with weight gain. These medications can affect weight in several ways. They may affect the basal metabolic rate without changing caloric intake. Also, they may affect hormonal changes and increase appetite.
If your children are taking these medications, you can consult your health care providers for better options.
How to determine your children’s healthy weight range?
Step one: determine body mass index (BMI) by using BMI Calculator.
BMI(Body Mass Index) is a useful tool to identify possible weight problems. It is based on an individual’s body weight and height. BMI does not measure body fat directly, but it correlates to direct measures of body fat.
BMI is associated with increased risk for a number of chronic diseases such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. There is a much more intense relationship between obesity and risk for type 2 diabetes.
Step two: After BMI is calculated for children and teens, check the BMI number in the CDC (Centers of Disease Control and Prevention ) BMI-for-age growth charts for either girls or boys to obtain a percentile ranking. The percentile indicates the relative position of the child’s BMI number among children of the same sex and age. The growth charts show the weight status for children and teens (underweight, healthy weight, overweight, and obese).
BMI-for-age weight status categories and the corresponding percentiles
|Weight Status Category||Percentile Range|
|Underweight||Less than the 5th percentile|
|Healthy weight||5th percentile to less than the 85th percentile|
|Overweight||85th to less than the 95th percentile|
|Obese||Equal to or greater than the 95th percentile|
Individuals who have a normal weight and an elevated waist circumference may be at an increased risk of developing chronic diseases. You can check waist to hip ratio to determine the health risks.
How to prevent childhood obesity?
- Don’t skip breakfast! Breakfast should be eaten within 1-2 hours after you get up to boost your metabolism.
- Moderate protein intake at each meal and protein snacks between meals will keep you full longer and help you stay energetic.
- Take a snack with a good source of protein every 2-3 hours, such as Greek yogurt or cheese, etc. This may help prevent the release of the stress hormone for food cravings later during the day.
- Be aware that sugar may induce more food cravings! Limit those snacks that are high in sugar, such as juices and desserts, etc.
- Portion control and all the numbers count! 1 large bagel = 4 servings of grains, 1 restaurant order of pasta = 6-8 servings of grains.
- Plan family activities that everyone can participate in exercises such as walking, biking, hiking and swimming.
- Lead by example and reduce the amount of time your children spend watching TV or playing video games.
- Help your children find physical activities that they enjoy and have fun.
- Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association 2014;311(8):806-814.
- Freedman D, Wang J, Thornton JC, et al. Classification of body fatness by body mass index-for-age categories among children. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 2009;163:801–811.
- Office of the Surgeon General. The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation. [pdf 840K] . Rockville, MD, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.
- George Bray, MD, MACP; Robert Kushner, MD; et al. The Obesity Epidemic! Exploring Emerging Strategies for Weight Control and Risk Reduction. Faculty and Disclosures. CME/CE Released: 12/28/2009.
- Cheskin L. (June, 2011) Prescription drugs that can cause weight gain. John Hopkins Health Alert. Accessed November 18, 2012.
Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship. – Buddha