Approximately one third of children and adolescents were classified as overweight in 2008.
Obesity results in 300,000 deaths yearly. A child is considered obese when they weigh 10 percent more then recommended body weight for height. We also use Body Mass Index as a measure for determining whether or not the patient is at a healthy weight.
The BMI is based on height, age and gender and is only slightly affected by increased muscle mass. A normal weight would be considered to be in the 5th to 85th percentile. The risk of being overweight is 85th to 95th percentile and overweight greater than 95th percentile.
There are several factors that contribute to children and adolescents becoming overweight. The major factor is eating habits, consuming both poor quality food and excess volumes. Inactivity also leads to excessive weight gain. Compounding factors include emotional stress, depression, poor self-esteem and poor school performance.
Additional psychiatric factors include obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, abusive environments and eating disorders.
However, the biggest single cause of weight gain in our society has been fast foods. Fast foods usually have high glycemic indexes and high fat content.
This diet combined with inactivity has led to our nation's obesity epidemic.
Some studies show that children that are overweight at age 2 have significantly increased incidence of being obese adults.
Short-term effects of being overweight can result in poor sports performance, poor peer interactions, emotional problems and medical problems such as breathing difficulties, poor sleep, hypertension, premature puberty, liver disease, joint problems and a multitude of other health issues. Other long-term medical effects include diabetes, cardiac disease, hypertension, multiple different types of cancers and shortened lifespan.
In addition, the emotional impact suffered by overweight children is immeasurable. They may suffer from teasing from peers and family members, and can experience discrimination in school that may significantly impact self-esteem. Long-term effects can result in poor school performance with depression, anorexia and bulimia.
An overweight child should be evaluated by their physician to ensure there is no medical process producing the weight gain. They should be evaluated for thyroid disease, metabolic syndrome [which is pre-diabetes] or other endocrine disorders.
A weight management plan should not place blame on the parents, but instead focus on teaching healthy lifestyles for the entire family while supporting the child's emotional health.
The intervention should include a nutritionist to develop a detailed dietary plan with instructions on how to read nutritional facts on food labels, control portion sizes, develop a family meal time, eliminate electronic media during meals and provide information on healthy snacks et cetera.
The USDA's MyPlate website [www.choosemyplate.gov] provides much of this information. A good treatment plan should also include physical therapy to increase activity. Organized sports are good for children but lifestyle changes which will stay with children after school are also important.
Obesity and overweight problems have become epidemic in the United States. Recent projections are estimating 50 percent of our population will be obese by the next decade if we do not intercede now.
There is no single solution to the weight problem in the United States, but our medical societies are trying to provide support. Our food culture and lifestyles need help now. If you have concerns about your child's weight please contact their physician to discuss an evaluation and possibly starting a weight management plan.
Dr. Joseph Castel is the director of Nason Pediatrics and started here in 1997. He is board certified with the American Academy of Pediatrics. He lives in Hollidaysburg.