Pediatric obesity occurs when a child has too many fat cells storing unused energy in their body. Genetic, behavioral and environmental factors all contribute to pediatric obesity.
Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show that 12.5 million (about 17%) of children and young adults between 2 and 19 years old are obese. That number has almost tripled since 1980.
Children’s bodies store extra calories when they eat more than their body uses. These extra calories are stored in fat cells to be used later for energy. However, when that child isn’t active, their body continues to develop fat cells. These fat cells can make a child overweight or eventually, obese.
Obesity is defined according to a child’s body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated using height and weight. It doesn’t measure body fat directly, but is a good indicator for most children and teens.
Since the normal body fat of a child changes as he ages, your child’s status is found using categories that are age- and sex-specific. If your child’s BMI is above the 85th percentile and under the 95th percentile for children who are the same age, height, and gender, he is considered overweight. If your child is at or above the 95th percentile for BMI, she is considered obese.
Obesity is different in children and teens than it is for adults. Children are growing, and boys and girls mature at different rates. Because of this, BMIs are calculated by comparing height and weight against growth charts that account for these age and sex-related differences. The BMI-for-age percentile shows how your child’s BMI compares with others of the same age and gender.
Your child’s doctors may also get blood tests to measure hormones that could affect weight if they are not normal. Hypothyroidism results when your thyroid gland under-produces certain important hormones that slow down metabolism. Too much cortisol (Cushing's syndrome) is a condition during which your body is over-exposed to the hormone cortisol, resulting in a buildup of fatty tissue. Both of these are treatable and may resolve the obesity. However, medical reasons are not a leading cause of obesity.
Not every child needs all these tests. Your physician will tell you exactly what the next steps are. Each year, specialists at Children’s Health see more than 12,000 pediatric patients for childhood obesity and other endocrine-related conditions. We have the skill and resources necessary to provide comprehensive and compassionate care for your child too.
Obesity results from energy imbalances when too many calories are consumed and too little physical activity takes place.
Obesity in childhood can lead to major medical concerns in both the near- and long-term. One of the most often seen and possibly the most concerning over time is an increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. This can lead to many health issues, such as pain from nerve damage, amputation of parts of the body because of blood vessel disease, and blindness.
Studies have shown that those who were obese in childhood or in their teen years are much more likely to continue to be overweight as adults. This compounds the medical problems seen in children.
If your child is obese, the first step should be a complete medical exam by the pediatrician. In most cases, physical problems will be ruled out and treatment can begin.
With medical issues ruled out, the only way to lose weight is to reduce the number of calories being eaten while also increasing the level of physical activity. Since obesity often is seen in more than one family member, dietary and exercise changes taken on as a family often improve the chances that all members will successfully lose weight.
Registered Dietitians (RDs) are the food and nutrition experts. Our RDs apply their expertise to disease prevention and health management. Referring patients to see the dietitian can improve the patient's health and well-being, improve quality of life, and lower health-care costs.
Patients are seen on an ongoing basis to monitor and evaluate their progress. Nutrition education and counseling provided over a series of visits are essential components of a comprehensive health care program.
Obesity is a lifelong issue that can continue throughout adulthood. The most common reason a person gains back lost weight is a return to their bad habits of eating too much and exercising too little.
Surgical intervention is a proven way to provide substantial weight loss in these adolescents. When combined with lifestyle changes, bariatric surgery can help adolescents reach a healthier weight, increase self-esteem, and reduce the likelihood of chronic disease.
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