Childhood obesity has many dangerous risks to both health and emotional well-being. One surprising impact of the pandemic was an increase in weight gain and weight-related health issues among children. September is Child Obesity Awareness Month. It is important to understand the dire consequences of this growing epidemic that was already a problem before the pandemic.
The economic impact of the pandemic might result in limited access to affordable, healthy food, including nutritious school meals. Lockdowns limited physical activity. School routines and predictability reduce the risk of obesity. Access to school breakfasts, lunch and healthy snacks are proven to reduce the risk of obesity. Social distancing prevented physical activity and remote learning may have increased sedentary time. Less frequent trips to the supermarket may have resulted in reliance on pre-packaged foods and less healthy choices.
In addition, personal, parental and family stress can increase a child’s risk of obesity. Attempting to cope with problems or deal with emotions or boredom can lead to overeating.
Child Obesity Reasons and Health Risks
With children’s weight gain comes weight-related health issues often considered adult problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease and Type 2 diabetes.
But the problem of childhood obesity is not limited to the pandemic. According to the CDC, before the pandemic one in five children in the United States was obese. Like adults, obesity in children represents an adverse impact on health. What is more, children who are obese are more likely to be obese adults. In addition, childhood obesity can result in bullying, social isolation, depression and lower self-esteem.
When it comes to weight in children, looks can sometimes be deceiving. Some children have larger body frames. Weight is distributed differently during various stages of development. Growth charts, body mass index (BMI) and other tests can help determine if weight is causing health problems.
Often, experts link child obesity to too little activity and too many calories. But genetic, hormonal and glandular factors can also be the cause. Some prescription medications, including prednisone, lithium, amitriptyline, Paxil, gabapentin and propranolol, can increase the risk of obesity.
How Parents Can Help
Parents can help children reduce the risk of weight gain through the following:
- Set an example with healthy eating and regular physical activity for everyone in the family.
- Make healthy snacks available, such as low-fat yogurt, hummus and fruit.
- Introduce healthy new foods more than once. Sometimes it takes many attempts to gain food acceptance in children.
- Choose non-food rewards. Promising sweets or candy interferes with kids’ natural ability to regulate their eating by encouraging them to eat when they are not hungry.
- Make sure children get enough sleep. Too little sleep can cause hormonal imbalances that can lead to increased appetite.
However, not all child obesity can be controlled with diet and exercise. More researchers are seeing obesity as a genetic disease and not only the result of lifestyle choices. More than 4.5 million children in the United States are classified as “severely obese,” a number that has nearly doubled since 1999.
Weight Loss Surgery for Child Obesity
Weight-loss surgery can help preteens and teens with severe obesity, offering evidence-based, safe and effective weight loss. While there can be complications and vitamin deficiencies, the purpose of the surgery is to improve long-term health into adulthood. As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that insurance companies cover bariatric surgery, pre-operative and post-operative care without arbitrary age limits for coverage.
Studies have found that 95% of teens who had Type 2 diabetes before surgery saw their diabetes resolve and nearly 80% normalized their high blood pressure. Other studies found up to eight years after surgery that many teens had a higher sense of well-being and lower rates of depression.
The main way we can help children with weight issues is to not make them feel that weight is a personal failing. It is important for everyone to understand that multiple factors influence body weight, including biology and the environment.
As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a team-based approach for chronic conditions like severe obesity that includes primary care providers, specialists, surgical teams, mental health care providers and dieticians.
Surgical Healing Arts Center treats obesity with a broad range of bariatric, laparoscopic and general surgery, giving patients tools to enhance their lives and health through comprehensive weight management.