Childhood obesity

About Childhood Obesity
Obesity is a kind of health challenge of our time. In average one in five adults is obese and we all know, that this condition can lead to different other illness even cardiovascular disease. In one survey Ireland was among the countries with the highest levels of obesity among 13 and 15 year old in 13 European countries, Israel and the United States. The largest rate of overweight was found in the United States, Ireland, Greece and Portugal. James Reilly, Ireland's Minister for Health has a concern about this condition, and recommended to set a health promoting policy:”Establishment of baseline data with regard to overweight and obesity among Irish children and subsequent monitoring of these trends is important for the development of appropriate health policy.”
Over the past 10 years there is arise growth of childhood obesity worldwide. I was very surprised to hear, that studies show that children who were born at the start of the 21st century, may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents as a result of the health consequences of obesity.
Percentage of children overweight and obese using IOTF criteria by age and gender in the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland

Age (Yrs)
% Overweight (incl. obese)
% Obese
% Overweight (incl. obese)
% Obese


What is Childhood Obesity:

Childhood obesity is caused by a large amount of body fat. Genetic and environmental factors, physical activity, eating habits, are all involved in children’s overweight problem. The term “Childhood Obesity” may refer to both children and adolescents.

Obesity is related to other diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and also psychological troubles that often continue into adulthood.

 A child is obese, or overweight, if he/she is 10% heavier than the average for his/her height and age. As methods to determine body fat directly are difficult, the diagnosis of obesity is often based on BMI.

Possible symptoms for childhood obesity:

·         Twenty per cent or more above average weight for height and age
·         Rolls of fat around the thighs, upper arms breasts and chin
·         Breathlessness on exertion

Impact on the child

Clearly, obesity, particularly amongst children is a serious public health problem. The Childhood Obesity will affect a child physically and mentally.

The medical impact of obesity during childhood is similar to those seen in obese adults. This means that children who are obese, are at an increased risk for:
o   High cholesterol
o   High blood pressure(hypertension)
o   Type 2 diabetes (previously considered an adult disease),
o   Metabolic syndrome
o   Sleep apnea (sleep disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep)
o   Liver disease
o   Orthopaedic problems
o   They also are more likely to be obese as adults, thus increasing the risk of a number of diseases, among them stroke, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and some cancers.

Children at a healthy weight are free of these weight-related diseases and less at risk of developing these diseases in adulthood.

·         Besides the physical effects, there are psychological effects of childhood obesity. In one study, severely obese children marked very low their quality of life. (The score level was the same as scores for children who were undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.) Overweight children must face on a daily basis with:
o   Emotional torture
o   Teasing
o   Negative response
o   Intolerance
o   Bullying
o   Abuse
The discrimination and abuse does not just come from their peers. Parents, teachers, and family members all can be responsible for the psychological effects. Many of these children need later help with:
o   Suicidal thoughts
o   Low self-esteem
o   Feelings of inability
o   Eating disorders
o   Overall poor quality of life.

Interestingly, parents answered the same questionnaires, and their ratings of their children's well-being were even lower than the children's self-ratings.


Nutrition guidelines to avoid Childhood Obesity:
·         If infants who are breastfed for at least 12 months are slimmer than infants who are fed formula at 1 year of age, and studies shows that Children had a reduced risk of being overweight if ever breastfed.
·         After breastfeeding one of a parent's biggest responsibilities is to provide the food a child needs to grow and be healthy. Adequate nutrition intake for children aged 1-6 may be reached by providing three meals and two to three small, nutritious snacks. A child's total intake should be based on a wide variety of foods, including mainly cereals and starch-containing foods such as potatoes and rice, plenty of fruit and vegetables, dairy products, meat, chicken, fish and eggs. Sweet treats should be limited and sufficient water intake should also be ensured.

Lei Lei's story: 
An article was published about an obese child’s case from ABC News Medical Unit Published:
A little boy named Lei Lei in China loves to eat. He is only 10 months old and weighs 43 pounds. It is very unusual, because most Chinese boys weigh around 18 pounds at this age. His mother told the paper that he has a "ravenous" appetite. If he continues to eat this way, he will be at risk for serious health problems, which I listed earlier.
To find out if there's a medical reason for his weight gain, the little boy was undergoing tests. There are medical conditions that can cause children to become extremely overweight, but in most cases children become overweight because their parents simply feed them too much. It can happen when mothers are constantly bottle feeding or if they start solid foods too soon. These mothers think that every time the child cries, he/she is hungry. And with it comes a weird question:
Can obesity in young children be a sign of parental abuse?

The role of child care settings in obesity prevention:
Children should be encouraged to be physically active and child care professionals should schedule activity periods into the children’s daily routine throughout the year. Physical activity helps to ensure that children eat enough food and get all the nutrients they need. It also builds up muscle strength and overall fitness, develops physical skills such as balance and coordination, and provides a release for children’s energy.
It is essential that there is outdoor space where children can play, or access to an outside area such as a garden, park or other safe open space. Exposure to summer sunlight in outdoor play helps children to maintain their vitamin D status. However, childcare settings should have a ‘sun policy’, with guidelines on how long children can remain outdoors in strong sunshine, and on the use of protective clothing such as sunhats, and a sun screen. All under-6s should be appropriately supervised at all times while outdoors.
Children in child care should have access to toys for active play – for example balls, hoops and skipping ropes.

·         Offering water as the preferred drink option during snack times instead of juices, punch or soda. Coke is especially dangerous. The active ingredient in Coke is phosphoric acid. Its pH is 2.8. It will dissolve a nail in about 4 days. Phosphoric acid also leaches calcium from bones (including t teeth) and is a major contributor to the rising increase in osteoporosis.
·         Diluted fruit juice is a useful source of vitamin C. Children should be encouraged to have a glass of diluted fruit juice with their main meal or with breakfast as this may also help the body to absorb iron.
·         Milk is a good drink for 1-4 year olds. Whole cow’s milk is suitable as a main drink for most children from 12 months of age. Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced gradually after the age of 2 years, provided that the child is a good eater and has a varied diet. Skimmed milk is not suitable as the main drink for children under 6 years of age.


·         Settings should serve fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned) as options instead of cake, cookies, candy and chips. Children should be encouraged to eat a varied diet. They should eat foods from each of the four main food groups every day. The four main food groups are:
• bread, other cereals and potatoes
• fruit and vegetables
• milk and dairy foods, and
• meat, fish and alternatives such as eggs, pulses
 (peas, beans and lentils) and soya.
·         A varied diet is associated with better health as it is more likely to contain all the nutrients the body needs.
·         Fruit and vegetables are particularly important for good health. Under-6s should be encouraged to taste at least five different fruits and vegetables a day.
·         Vitamin C is important in maintaining good health and may have a role in helping the body to absorb iron if both nutrients are present in the same meal. Beside of dinks sources -which I mentioned earlier- there are a good range of foods for vitamin C source , for example most fruits, potatoes, broccoli and other green vegetables, tomatoes and peppers. Children should be encouraged to eat foods containing vitamin C.
·         It is recommended that children up to the age of 6 years should receive vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D. This is the responsibility of the parents or guardians but carers could provide information to parents and guardians about where to find out more about them.
·         The iron intake of children under 6 is lower than currently recommended and there is evidence to suggest that low iron status is common in this age group. Under-6s should therefore eat a diet that is high in iron-rich food such as meat, poultry and fish, as well as fruits and vegetables. (Meat and meat dishes are also a good source of zinc.) Children who do not eat meat should have a varied diet containing foods such as cereals, pulses (peas, beans and lentils), vegetables and fruits.
·         The intakes of the type of sugars in the diet which most contribute to tooth decay are higher than recommended among the under-6s. If children have sugary foods, these should be given with meals rather than as snacks between meals. Children do not need sugary foods such as sweets, chocolate, soft drinks or honey for energy. Starchy foods – such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and yam – are better sources of energy (calories) as these foods contain other important nutrients too.
·         It is important that the under-6s get enough energy (calories) for growth and development. While adults and children aged over 6 are encouraged to eat a diet that is high in starchy foods and low in fat, younger children on this sort of diet may not have the appetite to eat enough food to provide all the nutrients they need. Carers should therefore be sensitive to the needs of children who are fussy eaters or small eaters and ensure that these children are offered a good variety of food that they will accept.
·         Mealtimes should be as quiet and peaceful as possible, as distractions such as radio or toys can disrupt the formation of good mealtime habits. 


This food pyramid is designed to make healthy eating easier.

Against childhood obesity a lots of efforts have been done. Doctors, nutrition experts, the government all try to help people to avoid this condition. Even the famous chef, Jamie Oliver drawn our attention to the importance of healthy childhood nutrition when he won a TED price in 2010 with his famous TED TALK: “Teach every child about food”.
Obesity in babies and children is rarely due to any kind of family trait or hormonal disease; it is probably due to lifestyle and dietary factors. Obesity is caused by a poor diet rich in saturated fats and processed foods, especially when combined with lack of physical activity.  Children younger than 6 spend an average of 2 hours a day in front of a screen, mostly watching TV, DVDs, or videos. These children won’t have as much activity as long as they sit before the screen and more likely will be overweight. Not surprisingly, TV in the bedroom is also linked to increased likelihood of being overweight. In other words, for many children, once they get home from school, virtually all of their free time is spent in front of one screen.
It is vital to make the time to guide young children into healthy eating habits. Providing a balanced range of nutritious foods will ensure children healthy growth and development. This will lay the foundation for the healthy adolescent and adult eating patterns essential for avoiding the chronic diseases.
Some parents do not know how to get children off the couch?  The hectic lifestyle makes us to forget about the importance of our health, and as a result of this parent simple have no time to teach their child the proper way to eat. In my opinion parents should pay more attention to the fact, that the early eating habits and life style will have a big influence on the child’s later life. Parent should also praise, reward and encourage physical activity.


Parents should set a good example as their active lifestyle can be a powerful stimulus for their child. Talking about physical activity is an opportunity to take care of our bodies. Parents might even set goals and have everyone track their activities and progress.
Parents should limit screen time. Television, video games and online activities changed our life during the past years reducing our time for physical activities. (Some Activity-oriented video games require movements— such as dance video games and video games that use a player's physical movements to control what happens on the screen — can boost a child's calorie-burning power.)
Parents should establish a routine. There is a need each day for physical activity. A morning or evening walk with the child can establish a routine. Gradually adding new activities to the routine will help the whole family to become more fit. Team sports or dance classes are a great way to stay fit. To keep the child interested in fitness, parents should make it fun.
Childcare workers and parents should work together to incorporate physical activity into a child's life. It is important for everyone to set the foundation for a lifetime of fitness and good mental and physical health.

·         Dr. Stoppard, Miriam. The baby & child health care handbook,  Dorling Kindersley, London (1991)
·         Dr. Carroll, Stephen. The Complete Family Guide to Healthy Living, Dorling Kindersley, London (1992)