According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, as of 2017, 30% of children aged 5-17 are living with overweight or obesity. Since 1979, the rates of childhood obesity have tripled, as a result of which children are at much higher risk of developing physical and emotional health problems, putting children at risk of remaining obese throughout adulthood.
Childhood obesity may be caused by various factors but genes, environment, lack of physical activity, dietary patterns and socioeconomic status are most predominant.
Impact of Childhood Obesity
Children with obesity may be susceptible to physical health problems such as:
- high blood pressure or heart disease
- type-2 diabetes
- sleep apnea and other breathing problems
- abnormal or missed menstrual cycles
- bone and joint problems
- reduced balance
Children living in larger bodies are at a higher risk of weight-related teasing and bullying which can have a negative impact on their mental health, leading to:
- low self-esteem and negative body image
- struggle with loneliness and friendships
- eating disorders
The Importance of Family Support
Family should be involved in any weight management program for children and adolescents as they play a pivotal role in their child’s nutrition, physical activity and mental well being. You as a parent need to be proactive in discussing weight with your child in a language that is sensitive and appropriate. It usually starts with you being aware of your own perception and attitudes about weight, and avoiding negative comments about your child or another person’s weight in front of your child.
The treatment a child receives at home will reflect how they react to weight stigma in the outside world. That is why it is important to have a safe and secure environment free of fat shaming or trauma, and build confidence in the child.
The following are some rules that can be implemented at home:
No dieting or food policing
Nobody at home should be on restrictive diets to lose weight – instead the focus should be on wholesome, real food that is nutritious and tastes good, with no restrictions or monitoring.
No fat shaming
Fat shaming or glorifying thinness should not be permitted among family members, friends or outsiders. Instead, all body types should be accepted and there should be an environment of love and care.
The focus should be on health and not numbers on a scale
Embrace and love your child, no matter his or her body size and this should apply to siblings as they can be a source of shame and teasing
Treatment for Childhood Obesity
Pediatric obesity treatment is somewhat different from adults since parents are responsible for nutrition, physical activity and other lifestyle patterns for their child.
It is recommended to seek medical advice in case of any preexisting or underlying conditions that may be causing weight gain. The healthcare provider should be made aware of family history, any physical or mental trauma or any other risk factor for their child becoming overweight and together set up systems that are individualized, realistic and actionable.
The primary treatment options include:
Children or adolescents with obesity are usually referred to a dietitian who can help them understand healthy eating habits, including portion control, offer nutritious food options, reading food labels and help them implement in a way that is sustainable.
This is an important intervention not just for weight management, but also overall health. The CSEP Guidelines recommend that children and youth aged 5 to 17:
- get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day, on average.
- get an additional several hours of light physical activity (LPA) through structured and unstructured activities.
Behaviours and lifestyles start at a young age so parents and their children should be educated on making long-term healthy lifestyle choices and modify behaviours to improve eating habits, increasing physical activity, engaging in group activities and setting realistic weight management systems in place.