Obesity is defined as an excessive accumulation of fat in various areas of the body that adversely affects general health. Obesity in children is a particularly worrisome medical condition as it can trigger serious health problems such as diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure and cholesterol – issues that used to only concern adults. This condition also has a serious impact on the psychology and self-esteem of the child. It is worth noting that according to surveys, Greece has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in Europe.

Obesity: What are the risk factors?

In order to carry out its daily functions, the body consumes energy. This energy comes from food. When the energy consumption is less than the intake of food, excess energy is stored as fat, which leads to an increase in body weight.

The factors that can lead to obesity include:

  • Poor diet: eating high calorie foods can easily cause a child to gain weight.
  • Lack of exercise: children who do not exercise are more likely to gain weight because they do not burn calories.
  • Family factors: when a child comes from a family of overweight people, he or she is more likely to also be overweight.
  • Psychological factors: a large percentage of children turn to food in order to cope with stress, pressures of the family, etc.
  • Disorders: childhood obesity can be due to endocrine disorders (hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome), syndromes (Prader-Willi, Bardet-Bield), gene mutations, etc.

Obesity: How does it impact the health of the child?

Obesity can impact the physical, social and emotional health of the child. An obese child may exhibit:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Asthma
  • Sleep disorders
  • Skeletal irregularities
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Low self-esteem
  • Behavioural problems and learning disabilities
  • Depression
  • Social isolation.

Obesity: How is it diagnosed?

Not all children are obese or overweight simply because they carry a few extra kilos. The distinction should be made by a doctor who will assess the weight and height of the child based on his or her age.

  • The body mass index (BMI) can indicate if the child is overweight based on age and height.
  • The doctor will use a growth chart to determine the percentile of the child based on gender and age.

In order to be considered obese, a child must exhibit over three constant deviations from the average body mass index. The doctor will also evaluate other factors related to family history, possible health problems, eating habits, exercise, etc.

On diagnosing obesity, the doctor will order blood and hormone tests to check the levels of cholesterol, blood glucose, Vitamin D, etc.

Obesity: How is it treated?

Because childhood obesity is a multifaceted problem, and in order to ensure proper treatment, the child should be monitored by a medical team comprising a doctor, psychologist, and dietician. The treatment is based on the age of the child and the conditions he or she may be facing. It usual involves a change in the child’s eating habits and an increase in physical activity. To achieve the necessary weight loss, treatment can sometimes be pharmaceutical and in rare cases surgical. However, these methods are not generally recommended for children.

When the child is overweight

In this case, the aim is to follow a program that will allow the child to maintain his or her weight, but to slow down the addition of new kilograms as the years pass. In this way, the child gradually grows in height without gaining more weight.

When the child is obese

Obese children are divided into groups according to their age. For children up to the age of 11, the aim is to adjust the diet in order to lose approximately 1 kilogram per month.

When children are in puberty, the diet is adjusted to lose up to 2 kilograms per week.

In all cases, the child is encouraged to eat healthier foods, smaller quantities and to exercise more. The success of the venture depends on the children themselves.

Obesity: Can it be prevented?

Preventing obesity depends largely on the parents. When they find that their child is at risk of becoming overweight, they can reverse the course by changing daily eating habits.

  1. Restrict consumption of fizzy drinks and pre-packaged food.
  2. Adopt a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  3. Eat breakfast daily.
  4. Adjust/decrease food potions depending on the age of the child.
  5. Have a doctor monitor the child at least once a year to check weight and height.
  6. Increase exercise.
  7. Avoid eating in front of the computer or television.

In conclusion, obesity is a serious medical condition and is not merely associated with external appearance. In addition to losing weight, accepting the problem and adopting a healthy lifestyle will also prevent serious health complications that may otherwise last for life. Support from the family and the desire of the child to participate in the effort are key factors when tackling the problem.