Before puberty, children tend to store extra “baby” fat, giving them a fuller appearance before they settle into a teen and adult body. However, some of this weight could present chronic medical consequences. What is the difference between pre-pubescent fat and childhood obesity?
Each child has a different body structure, metabolism and genetic composition. Some may have larger body frames, making them appear overweight. Throughout the various stages of development, kids carry their weight differently as the body adjusts to physical growth. However, if their body weight is disproportionately high for their height or their doctor deems the child obese, a lifetime of poor eating habits, low self-esteem and medical consequences could be the result.
How Common Is Childhood Obesity?
Obesity in children is considered an epidemic in the United States. For kids and teens aged 2 to 19, about 18.5% are considered obese. Affecting nearly 14 million children, obesity tends to strike more in low income, low education households, increasingly from families of color.
By 2010, childhood obesity had risen 60 percent from 1990. As of 2020, 9% of preschoolers were overweight or obese. About one in six kids is obese, with boys being affected more often than girls. Issues that can contribute to childhood obesity include geographic, cultural and economic factors of a child’s home.
Obesity Prevention Initiatives In Schools
Many children spend a majority of their day in the classroom. This indicates that schools have a responsibility to their students to provide programs that will benefit their wellbeing, both physical and mental. The main duty of teachers and their curriculum is to educate the students. Because nutrition is an important building block of childhood development, incorporating health into core subjects can equip students to make better choices and be more mindful of their lifestyles.
Promoting health in the classroom, including with evidence-based, relevant lessons, physical education classes and other initiatives can help children maintain a healthy weight. Outside of the curriculum, schools have also started food programs to replace unhealthy snacks and other lunch options that could contribute to a child’s weight.
Offering healthy choices in the cafeteria, limiting availability of sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks and other positive initiatives can change a student’s eating habits when they’re away from home. Unfortunately, nutritious foods can put a dent in school budgets and processed foods and drinks are usually available at sporting events, dances and fundraising events.
Some additional school programs include:
- Offering breakfast and after-school snack programs
- Serving meals that meet national nutrition standards
- Investing in cafeteria facilities to store, prepare and display healthy foods
- Avoiding stigmatization for students who participate in reduced-cost or free meals
- Implementing safe food preparation techniques
- Increasing financial support for lower income students
How To Help Your Child With Their Weight
An important factor that contributes to your child’s relationship with his or her weight is how the issue is approached at home. The eating habits of an adult may not be effective or safe for someone younger. Some dieticians insist that kids have their own set of nutritional needs that can’t be met with popular diet advice and trends. Consulting a pediatrician may help create a dietary plan that tackles a child’s weight problem, but eating habits start at the dinner table.
- Work together to decide on a weight goal. Instead of pressuring a child into achieving a certain beauty standard, be mindful of what he or she wants and what weight would feel physically comfortable.
- Avoid fad diets and get-skinny-quick plans. Putting your child on an extreme meal plan of any kind can alter how they see food into adulthood. Don’t make the child’s weight a center conversation topic to avoid any shame.
- Get full family cooperation. To ensure a whole lifestyle change, the family should be on board with weight loss initiatives. Instead of singling the child out, lead by example.
- Create small, achievable goals. Don’t expect a youngster to lose thirty pounds in the first month. Small, daily changes are necessary to instill long-term habits, such as trading sugar drinks for water and replacing fast food with home-cooked meals.
Incorporate fruits and vegetables into meals. Even though children might resist these nutritious foods, try using them every day.
- Make it a habit to eat meals together. Children who eat three or more meals per week with their family are typically 12% less likely to be overweight. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, family involvement in planning and cooking can go a long way.
Studying the Consequences, Causes and Prevention of Obesity
There are many factors that contribute to childhood obesity. Academic programs, home habits and of course the food that they consume all have an effect on your children’s weight and the way they feel physically and mentally. To learn more about how obesity can affect your child, see our accompanying resource.
Author bio: Kids Car Donations is a national organization that accepts vehicle donations to better the lives of children. The organization partners with a number of well-known nonprofits serving children and teens who are confronted with physical, mental and emotional challenges to provide the care they need.