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childhood obesity
last three decades
effects of obesity
obesity in children
causes of obesity
health and wellbeing
heart diseases
Childhood Obesity
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Obesity is defined as the condition in which an excess accumulation of adipose tissues or body fat negatively affects health and wellbeing.

Childhood obesity is a worrisome trend worldwide, with a greater prevalence in the developed countries.

Obesity has long been recognized not only as a physical state; but also as a medical disorder which poses risks for health and the development of other chronic medical disorders, such as diabetes, hypertension and other heart diseases.

Obesity which has shown dramatic increases within the last three decades, especially among children, no doubt, ranks among the most common chronic medical disorders. This trend is more obvious in Western societies.

The prevalence of childhood obesity is now seen, in many countries, as a matter of serious public health concern with specific measures being targeted to reduce this worrying trend.

Like any other chronic medical disorder or matter of public health concern; in order to effectively combat and reduce a trend, we need to have a clear understanding of the root causes which give rise to this phenomenon.

The causes of obesity in children and adults are similar in many respects and are multifactorial. We shall examine in more detail the causes and effects of obesity in children, not only from a medical stand point but also from the emotional or psychological and social implications

The causes or factors which influence or give rise to obesity in children are: 1. Genetic 2. Developmental 3. Environmental (family, cultural or societal) 4. Dietary 5. Sedentary 6. Medical

Researchers have clearly established link between genetic factors and the development of this condition. The likelihood increases especially when both parents are obese, or when they are from family background with history of obesity.

There are genes which have been identified which will increase the likelihood of obesity; even in the presence of proper nutrition, caloric intake and a fair amount of physical activities. These genes, for example, cause obesity by slowing down the metabolic rate; or they may also alter metabolism in ways that increase the tendency for the accumulation of adipose tissues, commonly referred to as fat.

Developmental factors also play a key role in the likelihood of the occurrence of childhood obesity. The likelihood of childhood obesity is increased in babies who were overweight at birth or became overweight in their infantile stages of development.

Breast feeding for extended periods have been shown to decrease the likelihood of childhood obesity and obesity later in life.

Environmental factors inclusive of family traditions, cultural and societal norms, standards and expectations, play an integral role in the development of childhood obesity.These traditions and cultural perspectives will to a great extent determine or influence the length of time breast feeding is done and the type of diet which is introduced from the earliest stages.

There are many parts of the world toady where obesity in general is encouraged because it is seen as a sign of good health and wellbeing. For this reason many mothers will strive to overfeed their children in keeping with this cultural norm and expectation.

Of note, for example, there may be families with long standing history of obesity running for generations, but these may not be due to genetic but rather family traditions and other social factors ranging from what they eat and overall calorie intake.. This in many cases is also influenced by their standards of living.

Dietary factors, no doubt, play a critical role in the development of childhood obesity. It has been shown that children who snack a lot between meals, especially snacks which have high sugar content have far higher incidence of obesity.There has also been direct correlation between the incidence of childhood obesity and a history of high or excess consumption of fried foods.

The incidence of childhood obesity is increased many fold when the preceding factors are combined with limited or no physical activities. This is what is commonly referred to as the sedentary life style.

It is of utmost importance to emphasize here that physical activities are not only useful to burn excess calories consumed, but in general increases metabolism, strengthen the coordination of body systems, help to purify waste products from the body, strengthen the body’s immune system and improves overall general health and wellbeing.

Of no less importance are medical conditions like endocrine disorders, for example, Cushing Syndrome which can predispose to obesity. Medical conditions which require prolong use of steroids in their management also predispose to obesity as a result of the side effects of these medications. There are also medical conditions which can impair or severely restrict the level of physical activity in a child and in this regard also contribute to the likelihood of obesity.

Children who are obese are affected in many ways. Many of these children develop low self-esteem in many respects. This is because they are often teased by their peers, and sometimes by even family members. This in turn leads to anxiety, depression, lack of confidence and poor performance at school.

It is important to note that depression in the obese child can result in over eating and withdrawing from peers, not participating in peer activities like games and all these will further aggravate the conditions of obesity and depression.

Severe cases of depression have been a major factor leading to suicide in many children.

Obesity in childhood increases the likelihood of being obese in adult life. Whether its childhood or adult obesity, as stated earlier, it poses serious risks for health. It affects all organs and systems and increases the likelihood of the development of diabetes, hypertension, heart problems, and peptic ulcers. In females, it causes hormonal imbalances resulting in irregular cycles and impaired fertility.

The increased likelihood of these medical disorders and their potential complications clearly shows that obesity causes increased morbidity and mortality.

Given the serious risks of childhood obesity and obesity in general, it is of utmost importance that all measures that are directed to reducing the incidence and dealing with this social phenomenon beginning with public education.

Public education will inform and help to change certain cultural stereotypes and practices which enable childhood obesity in many societies. Special emphasis should be placed on influencing the home environment by informing and encouraging proper nutritional practices, reducing for example the intake of sweets and fried foods and reduction overall of calorie intake.

At the individual level the importance of counseling is paramount given many are depressed, have low self-esteem and have even become frustrated trying to lose weight.

Increasing the level of physical activities as stated earlier is not only aimed at reducing and maintaining weight but for overall health and well-being.

Medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension which commonly result or those which may have given rise to childhood obesity, should be treated specifically.

All measures which prevent and treat childhood obesity will ensure there is a slimmer, healthier population that will be more productive and living lighter, better and longer.


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