Whether we realize it or not, the risk of obesity in children is getting higher with increased access to fast food and poorly nourished food (junk food). Not only food factors, there are still other factors that can make children suffer from obesity and the risk of causing health problems. Parents, know the facts and causes of obesity in children here.
Based on a joint research report in 2016 conducted by UNICEF, WHO and ASEAN, Indonesia has the same percentage for obese children and malnourished children (malnourished / poor), which is 12 percent.
Obesity in children occurs when their weight exceeds the normal weight based on height. This condition is dangerous because it makes them at high risk of suffering from chronic diseases and experiencing stress.
Parents should remember that obesity is different from being overweight. The determination of the diagnosis of obesity children needs to be done very carefully. The doctor will measure a child’s weight and height, and calculate the child’s Body Mass Index (BMI). These results will be compared with standard / normal values.
Trigger Factors for Obesity
Many factors can cause obesity. Some of them are interrelated, namely:
- Lifestyle. Unhealthy eating patterns with excessive calories and not accompanied by active movement. Eating foods that are rich in saturated fat and sugar (such as ice cream, chocolate, sweets), fast or fast food groups, and soft drinks or energy drinks are thought to be the main causes of obesity. Eating patterns accompanied by the habit of sitting too long in front of a TV or in front of a computer screen are the main causes of obesity among the younger generation.
- Genetic factors. Although not absolute, children with family members or parents who are obese are more at risk of suffering from obesity. Besides being hereditary, it can also be caused by eating patterns and lifestyle of children who are similar to their parents.
- Psychological factors. Obesity is sometimes experienced by children or adolescents who make food an escape from their frustration or psychological stress on learning at school, boredom, problems, and other emotional forms.
In addition to the above factors, the practice of feeding infants and children who are not considered or are still traditional, with food choices that contain little good nutrition, are also other contributing factors.
Complications Due to Obesity
Not only on health, obesity can have an impact on children’s lives as a whole.
The following are health conditions that can be triggered by obesity:
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol. Both are at risk of causing plaque which causes narrowing of arteries in children, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks later in life.
- Type 2 diabetes. A lifestyle that is less active, coupled with obesity, can trigger the risk of type 2 diabetes which affects glucose metabolism in your baby’s body.
- Respiratory disease. Excessive body weight of the child can cause the child’s respiratory tract to narrow, swell, and make it difficult to breathe so that the risk of suffering from respiratory diseases such as asthma.
- Sleep disorder. As a result of obesity, the child’s breathing can become abnormal, such as snoring while sleeping. The quality of rest or sleep of the child can decrease due to interference with his breathing. This can cause learning achievement in school to decline because children have difficulty concentrating in class and are often sleepy during the day.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / NAFLD). Obesity can cause a buildup of fat that harms the liver.
- Disorders of the bones that support excess body weight.
Social and emotional impact
- Disorders of behavior. Children who suffer from obesity tend to be more difficult to socialize and more easily worried about the opinions of others about their weight.
- Not confident. Excessive weight often makes a person insecure in relationships
- Depression. Discomfort and confidence make children vulnerable to depression.
How to diagnose obesity?
The earliest step if you are worried that your child has obesity is to have it checked by a doctor so that he gets the diagnosis and the right treatment.
Before taking your child to the doctor, prepare the following things:
- Write complaints, behaviors, activities, and habits of your child that can cause obesity.
- Record the groups of foods consumed by children in a week or foods that he often consumes. Also bring notes of medicines or vitamins that are commonly consumed.
- It is possible that the doctor will also ask about your family’s daily activities and diet, as well as the history of family members who are obese.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
BMI is a measurement commonly used to determine whether a person’s weight can be classified as under normal weight, normal body weight, being overweight, or obese. BMI is measured by the formula weight (in kilograms) divided by height squared (in meters2).
For example an 8-year-old boy weighing 50 kilograms, and height is 1.2 meters, so his BMI is:
50 kg / (1.20 m) 2 = 50 / 1.44 ≈ 34.7 kg / m2
Measurements based on your child’s BMI will be compared based on the BMI of other children of the same sex, age and height.
In addition to measuring a child’s BMI, your doctor will examine your child’s diet, activity levels, family history of obesity, and other children’s health problems.
Examination of blood sugar levels, cholesterol, hormonal balance, vitamin D levels, and examinations related to other conditions of obesity can also be done. Note that this blood test generally requires the child to fast for the previous 8-12 hours.
Accompanying Children with Obesity
The key to dealing with children with obesity rests on two things. The first is to ensure that the child has adopted a healthy diet and invites him to physical activity more regularly, so that he loses weight. However, weight reduction must be done in the long run gradually and it is advisable to ask the pediatrician first. Parents must know that in this process, the child’s body weight should only decrease 0.5-0.9 kilograms in one month for cases of obesity that is not severe, and one week for severe cases, with the following guidelines:
Talk from heart to heart
Weight loss is a sensitive topic to be discussed, especially in children as young people. But not talking about it at all will instead put the child in a dangerous condition. Not only for health, but also psychologically. The following are some things that parents should be concerned about:
- Make sure your child knows that the process of regulating life patterns for weight loss will be the process he will go through with you. This is for the good and for a healthier long-term goal.
- Encourage children to be open also about problems that are not related to food, but have the potential to be a cause of obesity.
- Always give praise and show support when seeing the efforts and small successes achieved by children.
- As a parent, you play an important role in determining what and how children consume their food. Try to replace as many packaged foods as possible with fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Limit the frequency of eating out, especially in fast food restaurants that offer a lot of foods high in sugar and cholesterol.
- By cooking food by yourself, you are more able to control the cholesterol and calorie content in food consumed by children. Prioritize cooking by steaming or boiling over frying.
- Avoid giving food as gifts, or limiting punitive food.
- Turn your family meals into a focused and fun activity. Eating while watching TV can make children lose control of what and how they eat food.
- It’s better to change healthy eating in the long run than to immediately limit all high-calorie foods. Drastic forced dietary changes tend not to last long.
- For parents, be a role model for your child to live a healthy life so that he can follow your healthy behavior and lifestyle.
Invite children to move
- Physical activity does not have to always be heavy exercise. It will be easier to suggest physical activities that he likes, such as playing jump rope, cycling or hobbies and other sports that he likes.
- Limit your child’s time to watch TV or sit playing games on a smartphone, tablet or computer, to no more than one hour every day for pre-school children.
- For older children, remind him to take breaks between times when he has to sit down to study or do assignments at the computer by exercising for a while. He can play basketball or soccer before returning to continue studying.
Preventing Obesity in Children
Childhood obesity can be prevented. The following are things that parents can do to keep a child’s body healthy and avoid obesity:
- Make a healthy lifestyle a habit in the family. Schedule swimming together once every two weeks, picnic in the park, and cook healthy food together.
- Give an example by practicing a healthy lifestyle in private, for example by not smoking, choosing healthy foods, and exercising regularly.
- Check with your doctor regularly for a BMI count to detect the risk of obesity, especially if your child appears to be overweight.
- Make sure your child has enough quality sleep. Lack of sleep is a major factor causing obesity and other health problems. Placing a TV outside the bedroom can make a child sleep more comfortably and quickly. The following are recommended sleep duration for each age:
12-18 years: 8.5 hours per day.
5-12 years: 10 to 11 hours per day.
3-5 years: 11 to 13 hours per day.
1-3 years: 12 to 14 hours per day.
- Remind your child that you love him unconditionally, regardless of body shape or whatever others say about him. This will make the child feel welcome and encourage him to be open about all the problems he faces and potentially trigger obesity.
Overcoming obesity in children is very dependent on the role and parenting parents in their lives. To grow motivation and encourage children to live healthy, it must start from the healthy behavior of parents. Obese children do look cute and adorable, but can be dangerous if this condition causes illness later in life because obesity is not treated as early as possible.
Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that can affect his childhood and development. This condition can also encourage children to experience health problems in the future. Be sure to consult a doctor if your child needs special attention regarding weight.