Obesity in Children

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Experts point to many reasons leading to a rise in childhood obesity, like environmental factors, lifestyle preferences and cultural environments. And though obesity is generally thought to be the result of too many calories and fat, researchers are now pointing to the high amount of sugar in soda and juices, larger portion sizes, and a decrease in physical activity as contributing factors to obesity.

How is obesity in children measured anyway?

Currently, body mass index, or BMI chart, is used to decide if a child is overweight or obese. Children with BMIs at or higher than the 85th percentile but below the 95th percentile are considered overweight; BMIs at or above the 95th percentile are considered obese.

Any weight ranging from the 5th percentile to less than the 85th percentile is considered a normal or healthy weight. BMIs are stacked against youth of the same age and sex, since a child’s body composition changes quite a bit as he or she ages.

While using BMI might have some accuracy issues, the number of children who aren’t at a healthy weight is concerning. What’s especially interesting about overweight and obese children is that it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Though there have always been children who weigh more than their peers, it’s only in the last four decades or so that rates have skyrocketed in young people.

Issues Arising From Changes In Family Practices

In the recent decades, family practices have significantly changed, and several of these practices greatly contribute to childhood obesity:

  • With a decreasing number of mothers who breast-feed, more infants become obese children as they grow up and are reared on infant formula instead.
  • Less children go outside and engage in active play as technologies, such as the television and video games, keep children indoors.
  • Rather than walking or biking to a bus-stop or directly to school, more school-age children are driven to school by their parents, reducing physical activity.
  • As family sizes decrease, the children’s pester power, their ability to force adults to do what the want, increases. This ability enables them to have easier access to calorie-packed foods, such as candy and soda drinks.
  • the social context around family meal-time plays a role in rates of childhood obesity


Children who are obese also are more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol, breathing problems like asthma, joint problems, fatty liver disease, and heartburn.

And then, of course, there are the effects that transcend the physical. Depression and a feeling of low quality of life are more common in young people who are obese. And children who are obese are more likely to be bullied more than their average-weight peers, no matter how good their social skills are.

Author: Bibian Okoye

A Retired Chief Nursing Officer, PGDip IHM

2 thoughts on “Obesity in Children”

  1. I think you have brought up an extremely important topic here and one that needs to be taken far more seriously.

    The health of children in some countries has certainly seen a decline in the past several decades and I agree with many of the contributing factors that you have listed here.

    However I am curious about your suggestion about formula feeding being a cause for obesity. While I am sure some formulas are better than others, I was unaware this was a potential side effect of some. Where did you find this information? I would like to read about that further!

    1. Yes formula feeding adds tremendously to childhood obesity. I’d like to add some fact and stats to support my article.

      You see during the first 6 to 8 weeks of life there is little difference in growth (gain in weight and length) between breast- and formula-fed babies. However, from about 2 months of age formula-fed infants gain weight and length more rapidly than breast-fed infants (Ziegler 2006; Singhal 2007; Rebhan 2009; Larnkjaer et al 2009; Durmuş et al 2011; Rose et al 2012). Numerous studies have shown that by the end of the first year breastfed babies are leaner than formula-fed babies (Lande et al 2005; Tantracheewathorn 2005; Oddy et al 2006; Scholtens 2008; Stuebe 2009; Van Rossem 2011; Mindru and Moraru 2012; Arenz et al 2004; Mayer-Davis et al 2006; Plagemann and Harder 2011). Scientists suggest that the rapid weight gain among formula fed babies likely represents fat mass gain (Wells et al.,2007; Karaolis-Danckert et al., 2006).

      Another, even more recent study, showed that the effects of prior breastfeeding on protecting from obesity were particularly significant at ages 6 to 13 years (Crume et al 2012). Similar results were reported from 2 to 14 year old children in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (Li et al 2005).
      So you see dear formula fed babies are sometimes fatties, not just now, but throughout life.

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