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Recent research has discovered evidence that some cases of childhood obesity are linked to genetic mutations, but the studies suggest that fewer than 2% of cases of obesity in children are caused by genetics. Childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions with 1 in 5 children in the US and 1 in 7 in the UK classed as obese.
Obesity is measured by calculating body mass index which is calculated by dividing your height in kilograms divided by the square of your height in metres. A result greater than 30 is considered obese although a high proportion of muscle, which is heavier than fat, can produce misleading results.
Obesity is linked to a number of problems, mental and physical, including:-
- Low self esteem and depression
- Low motivational drive, including feelings of lethargy
- Increased risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure
- Reduced quality of sleep (sleep apnea)
Most causes of childhood obesity are linked to lifestyle - nutrition and activity being the two main factors. Parents have a responsibility to look after their children and help their children avoid excessive weight gain. Simple steps that you can take include:-
- Encouraging an active lifestyle - make sure that your children have time to run around outdoors and in the park
- Avoid excessive snacking - children don't need to be grazing constantly but it is an easy habit to develop, ration snacks to appropriate times of the day
- Provide a role model - if you are excessively overweight then your children will consider entirely normal
- Encourage whole foods and healthy snacks rather than fast food and soft drinks
- Don't let your children choose their meals - they will probably focus on unhealthier foods - ensure you give your children a balanced diet
- Breast feed as long as you can - research suggests that breastfeeding protects children against obesity in later life
- Make sure your children consume vegetables and dairy products in their diet
Childhood obesity is something that you will want to avoid. There is no approved medication for obesity in children but so much can be done by adapting lifestyle. If your children are growing excessively overweight for no apparent reason, then do seek medical advice. There may be more serious underlying problems not linked to lifestyle, but remember that these cases are rare.