How can I learn more about and deal with childhood obesity?

Childhood obesity is a condition where excess body fat negatively affects a child's health or wellbeing.

Overweight kids is a very, very serious public health challenge of the current century. The problem is global. It is affecting low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. In 2010, the number of overweight children under the age of five, is estimated to be over 42 million globally. Close to 35 million of these are from developing countries.

Overweight children are likely to stay that way into adulthood.

The good news: Overweight and obesity, as well as their related diseases, are largely preventable! Prevention of childhood obesity therefore needs high priority amongst parents and educators.

The main causes behind the rising levels of childhood obesity:

* a shift in diet towards increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals and other healthy micronutrients

* a trend towards decreased levels of physical activity.

Effects on health:

The first problems to occur in obese children are usually emotional or psychological. Childhood obesity can however, also lead to life-threatening conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep problems, cancer and other disorders. Some of the other disorders would include liver disease, early puberty or menarche, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, skin infections, and asthma and other respiratory problems. Obesity during adolescence has been found to increase mortality rates during adulthood.

Obese children often suffer from teasing by their peers. Some are harassed or discriminated against by their own family. Stereotypes abound and may lead to low self esteem and depression. A 2008 study has found that children who are obese have carotid arteries which have prematurely aged by as much as thirty years as well as abnormal levels of cholesterol.

As methods to determine body fat directly are difficult, the diagnosis of obesity is often based on BMI (Body Mass Index).

More about BMI:

Your child's BMI (body mass index) is an important tool that you can use to determine if your child is overweight, underweight, or at a healthy weight.

1. Record your child's weight in pounds or kilograms.

2. Measure your child's height in inches or centimetres.

3. BMI Formula:

Enter your child's weight and height into the BMI formula.

** For pounds and inches: BMI = [weight / (height x height)] x 703

** If you are using the metric system, the formula to calculate BMI is a little different. In this BMI formula, you use kilograms and meters for a child's weight and height and use the formula - BMI = [weight / (height x height)].

Because the BMI formula simply includes a child's height and weight and doesn't directly measure their body fat, a lot of people are critical of using body mass index to measure obesity. However, BMI is a reliable indicator of body fatness for most children and teens.

4. BMI Percentiles:

Use this calculated BMI and find your child's BMI percentile on a Girl's BMI Chart or Boy's BMI Chart, as appropriate.(see links below). After finding your child's age on the bottom of the BMI growth chart, follow the line up until it crosses the horizontal line that meets your child's BMI that you just calculated on the side of the growth chart. The curve that intersects these two lines is your child's BMI percentile. For example, on the boy's BMI chart, you can see that a 13-year-old boy with a BMI of 17 is at the 25th percentile for BMI for his age.

5. BMI Categories:

See what category your child's BMI fits in:

* Underweight - BMI less than the 5th percentile

* Healthy Weight - BMI 5th percentile up to the 85th percentile

* At Risk of Overweight - BMI 85th to less than the 95th percentile

* Overweight - BMI greater than or equal to the 95th percentile

Find the Girls' BMI Chart here

Find the Boys' BMI Chart here

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