Child obesity rates have jumped to roughly 20% over the past several decades, which is a significantly greater population percentage than ever before. When factoring in children who are merely overweight, that figure jumps to around 50%. Multiple factors can cause child obesity, but pediatricians can help combat this raging epidemic in several different ways.
As with many health situations, pediatricians can help prevent child obesity by educating children and parents about proper dietary and lifestyle habits. Child obesity increases the odds of developing prediabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and other diseases, so proper education of children and parents before children become obese can prevent child obesity from ever occurring. Since child obesity often leads to adult obesity, early education is key to keeping overall obesity levels low.
Pediatricians should frequently use BMI (body mass index) to evaluate children’s weight levels. Children that fall in the 85th percentile or above according to the BMI are considered overweight, while those who rank 95th or higher are labeled obese. Early screening using BMI can help pediatricians catch child obesity before it gets severe, allowing them to further educate children and parents about the dangers and causes of—as well as treatments for—child obesity. Obesity may also be a symptom of a more severe medical problem, so pediatricians may also test children for various diseases and disorders that can cause obesity, leading to the early diagnosis and treatment of other diseases.
Since 30% of all children are already overweight or obese, pediatricians must treat these children by helping them lose weight through weight management programs, counseling, and other similar measures. Genetics, diet, amount of exercise, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status can all factor into child obesity, so pediatricians will often use weight management programs that can be adjusted to address the needs of each child. Intervening early could help curb instances of diabetes and other diseases brought on by child obesity.
WHO projections based on examinations of current trends have child obesity increasing to roughly 70 million children by 2025. This increasing of child obesity could lead to more instances of cancer, diabetes, and osteoarthritis as well as an even greater monetary burden on the healthcare system. Pediatricians must continue to educate parents and children, examine children using BMI and other testing methods, and help children who are already obese lose and better manage their weight.