The term “obesity” is used to describe the amount of fat in the human body

New extended growth charts for measuring severe childhood obesity were released December 15 by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. The advantage of the new charts is that they will help treat the increasing number of children with severe obesity.

The use of the new charts, in conjunction with existing standards, will help to properly accommodate body mass index (BMI) measurements at severely high levels in children and adolescents between two to nineteen years of age.

Obesity in children and adults

The term “obesity” is used to describe the amount of fat in the human body. It is determined by a calculation of a person’s body mass index that is derived from a combination of height and weight. According to Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health, a healthy BMI for adults falls between 25.0 and 29.9. A BMI over 29.9 is considered obese.

For children and adolescents, in addition to height and weight, age and gender are also considered when calculating BMI. One of the reasons for the additional factors is that as children grow older and taller, body fat levels fluctuate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children and adolescents are considered obese when their BMI rises above the 95th percentile of those of the same age and sex.

Between 2017 and 2020, it was estimated that 49% of adults ages 20 and older were considered obese. During the same period, 19.7% of children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 were obese. This translates to about 14.7 million young people.

Childhood obesity rates among various age groups under age 19 show different percentages of prevalence. Starting among the youngest measured groups, 12.7% between ages 2 to 5 are considered obese. The rate increases to 20.7% for those between 6 and 11 years old and up to 22.2% for those between 12 years old and 20 years old.

Causes, risk factors and complications

Mayo Clinic reports that while the most frequent cause of childhood obesity is a combination of poor diet and infrequent exercise, these and other risk factors may work together to exacerbate the condition. Among the contributing elements can be family history. If a child’s parents and other family members are prone to being overweight or obese, the likelihood increases for a child to become obese.

Family history combined with a diet of high-calorie foods and little exercise makes the probability of obesity especially high. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 10% or less of childhood obesity cases can be directly attributed to genetics and hormones. A family history of obesity can contribute because of the dietary and exercise habits that may surround a child.

Psychological influences may also raise the potential for childhood obesity. They can include a child coping with stress created by family conflict by eating too much. Using food consumption to battle boredom or cope with certain emotions may also occur.

Environmental factors may also include living in areas not served by supermarkets or food stores that offer a wide variety of healthy food. This increases the probability of convenience food diets, such as those that rely heavily on processed and frozen food, as well as crackers, cookies and other less healthy options.

Some medical conditions and medications may be risk factors for obesity. Boston Children’s Hospital lists Prader-Willi syndrome and hypothyroidism as possible contributors. Medications, including steroids and some anti-depressants, may also increase chances of obesity in children. Specifically, prescription medications including prednisone, lithium, paroxetine, and propranolol have been associated with obesity. The use of prescription gabapentin may also contribute.

While a poor diet is a leading cause of childhood obesity, it can simultaneously create and aggravate type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Additionally, the same issue can initiate and stimulate breathing difficulty and joint pain. Asthma and obstructive sleep apnea are more frequent in overweight children.

Because some children have large body frames, what may appear to be obesity could be attributed instead to that. A BMI test can determine if obesity exists. Providing a healthy diet, encouraging exercise and proper sleep all work to prevent childhood obesity.

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Omar P. Haqqani is the Chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Vascular Health Clinics in Midland.

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