What is Childhood Obesity: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic in the United States. In order to combat it, we need to understand what causes it and how children can be prevented from becoming obese. This paper will cover these two topics as well as offer some treatment for those who are already obese.

Childhood obesity is a broad topic that encompasses more than just an increased weight on a child’s body. It has been shown that there are many factors involved with childhood obesity such as genetics, lack of exercise, dieting, and others which all lead up to the same outcome: being overweight or obese at a young age. Recent research shows that one out of every three children aged six through eleven is either overweight or obese.

What is childhood obesity?

Childhood obesity is defined as an excess of body fat in children. This excess body fat can be attributed to a diet high in calories and lack of physical activity, both at home and school.

There are three categories that childhood obesity falls into: mild, moderate, severe. When the BMI (Body Mass Index), which is used to find weight status in relation to height, falls between the 85th and 94th percentiles then it is categorized as mild. When the BMI falls in the 95th percentile or higher it is moderate obesity, while severe obesity is when the BMI falls in the 99th percentile or higher.

Numerous studies have been conducted trying to pinpoint all of the issues that come with childhood obesity. It seems that there are two main causes of excess body fat in children: poor diet and lack of exercise.

Poor dietary habits can be what causes a child to become obese. Children are bombarded by food advertisements, many which are high in sugar or contain too much salt for one person to eat in one day.

Childhood Obesity Symptoms:

A child who is obese shows the same symptoms as an adult would. These include:

  • Elevated Blood pressure
  • High serum cholesterol levels
  • Reduced glucose tolerance or diabetes
  • Abnormal blood fat levels, such as high triglycerides

These are just some of the many signs an obese child will have. If any of these symptoms are present, a doctor should be seen immediately.

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What are the main causes of childhood obesity?

Some of the main causes for childhood obesity are hereditary. If a parent is obese, then that child has an increased chance of being obese as well. Also, if both parents are physically inactive, there is a good chance their children will not be active either. Other things to take into account are how much time the child spends watching television or playing video games, and how much time they spend eating. Some fast food restaurants proudly boast that one of their children’s meals has over half the calories needed in a single meal. This is fine if it’s an occasional thing, but not when it becomes a regular occurrence.

The media is another major player in all this; advertisements for things like junk food, breakfast cereals, and video games are only a few of many ways companies try to get our children’s attention. Parents have the most power when it comes to controlling their child’s media exposure. If parents set limits on how much television is watched or how often they play with certain toys, then the child will not be as influenced by the media.

Other things that might lead a child to obesity are:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Dieting
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Psychological disorders

Childhood Obesity Treatment:

If a child is already obese, the best course of action to take would be to get them on a sensible diet and exercise plan from their physician or from someone who has experience dealing with childhood obesity. Although changing a whole lifestyle for a child may seem overwhelming at first, it is manageable and will make a significant difference in the child’s long term health.

Childhood Obesity Self-Care:

An obese child will have to change their whole lifestyle if they are ever going to lose weight. This includes eating healthy foods, exercising every day for at least one hour, and being active in some form or another.

One of the best decisions a parent can make for their child is enrolling them in an after school sports program. Almost every town has some sort of sports program that children can join. From football to soccer, there is a sport for everyone. If the child is too young to play on an actual team, then they can join a club sport such as track or swimming.

Being active in some form or another will help the obese child lose weight and keep it off throughout their life. If the child is involved in sports, they will be burning a large number of calories during practices and games.

If an obese child does not have a physical education class at their school or if they live far from a town with clubs or activities for children, then their parent should enroll them in daily physical activity. This can take a form of walking to school, riding their bike instead of driving places, or doing yard work at home. Every little bit helps when it comes to weight loss.

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Prevention Tips for Parents with Obese Children:

The best thing a parent can do for their child is making sure they are active in some form or another. Here are some tips on how to get your obese child involved in daily physical activity.

Walk with your child or their friends to school. If they live more than two miles away, try riding a bike instead of driving every day.

Instead of taking your car, take your child’s bike when you run errands during the weekend. This will allow them to get some exercise while shopping.

Do not send your child outside without something active they can do. If you are at the park, make them go on the swings or see how high they can climb on the monkey bars instead of just standing around watching them play.

Who are the Specialists who treat Obesity in Children?

Depending on the severity of your child’s case, you might be referred to physical therapists, pediatricians, dieticians, exercise physiologists, and other specialists.

Physical Therapists:

Physical therapists often work in a clinic or a hospital. They can determine where your child is in terms of their health and develop a physical therapy program that will kind to the muscles, bones, and joints in your child’s body.


The pediatrician is going to be the one who checks up on your child’s overall health, including mental and physical. They will also be the one to refer you to other specialists as needed.


A dietician can work with a young obese patient to create a healthy meal plan that they can stick with long term. This specialist will have years of experience dealing with obese children and can help them develop a healthy relationship with food.

Exercise physiologists:

An exercise physiologist will work with your child to create a safe and effective exercise plan that they can stick to for life. Exercise physiologists know how to modify exercises if needed so your child does not over exert themselves or injure themselves doing the wrong type of exercise.

What are 5 factors contributing to the increase in childhood obesity?

There are many factors that contribute to the increase in obesity among children. Here are 5 of the most common ones:

Physical Inactivity:

Being physically active does not include watching television or playing video games all day long. It means doing some sort of physical activity every single day for at least an hour. This can be walking, bike riding, or any other activity that gets your child’s heart rate up.

Unhealthy Diet:

The way a person eats can be directly linked to their weight gain. Eating too much sugar and fat in the form of candy, cookies, fast food, etc. can lead to obesity when consumed on a regular basis for many years.


Sometimes obesity that runs in families can be passed down from their parents and grandparents. Sometimes it is just a result of bad habits, but sometimes the reason behind weight gain may be genetic. If obesity runs in your family, you may want to increase physical activity and start eating healthier as soon as possible so your children do not inherit obesity themselves.

Too Much Screen Time:

A lot of children spend most of their day in front of a television, computer, or video game console. This screen time reduces the time they are spending with their friends playing outside, riding bikes with them, or any other physical activity they can get involved in to keep them healthy.


Children, just like adults, can get stressed out and eat too much as a result. If your child is under a lot of pressure at school or even around the house, they may turn to eating in order to make themselves feel better which will lead to weight gain.

What are 4 common problems obese children experience:

There are several problems that obese children can experience as a result of their weight. Some common ones include:

Back and joint pain:

When a child is overweight, it puts additional pressure on them to do simple physical tasks such as walking or standing for long periods of time. This pressure can cause severe back and joint pain if they spend too much time standing or walking.

Shorter lifespan:

Being obese as a child means your child will experience an earlier onset of health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc. All of these can shorten their lifespan significantly if they are not monitored and treated appropriately by specialists.

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In addition to being physically limited, many children have been bullied and made fun of for their weight. This can lead to severe depression which can be very difficult on your child’s mental health. If they find themselves feeling this way on a regular basis, it is important that you speak with a professional or try talking them into going to therapy so they can learn to cope with bullying and negative feelings.

Inability to concentrate:

Being overweight puts a lot of pressure on your child’s mind as well as their body. If they are constantly thinking about how heavy or unattractive they feel, it may lead to them not being able to focus on school work and other responsibilities. This can be a result of depression as well, but it is important to identify the problem since you child’s grades may be suffering as a result.

How can you help your child?

There are many things you can do to help your child lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. These simple steps will get you started:

Encourage physical activity:

Children need an hour of physical activity every single day in order to stay healthy and fit. This does not include sitting in front of a computer for most of the day either. Encourage your child to play outside with friends, ride their bike, or participate in any other physical activity that gets your child’s heart rate up and keeps them moving.

Reduce screen time:

If you child spends a lot of their day behind a computer monitor, television screen, or video game console, try to limit their screen time to two hours. Once they reach this limit, make sure you switch their focus to physical activities instead of screens so they don’t spend too much time sitting down.

Make healthy food choices:

Instead of rewarding your child for good behavior with unhealthy snacks like donuts or candy, reward them with fruits or vegetables instead. Talk to your child about the importance of healthy eating and the risks of obesity before they reach adulthood. If you are having trouble convincing them, try cooking with them so they can get involved in healthier meal preparation techniques.

What is the prognosis for children who are Obese?

If your child is severely obese, they will have more health problems as they age. This includes the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and other chronic conditions associated with obesity. Severe obesity in childhood can also lead to depression.

It is possible for your child to recover if they are suffering from severe obesity, but it will be a long term process that includes physical activity and proper nutrition.

How does obesity in children cause problems?

Obesity can cause a number of health problems for children of any age. Studies show that obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, asthma, sleep apnea, depression or other mental disorders compared to healthier children.

There are also some obesity-related health conditions that only affect children, these include:

  • Pubertal Delay: Children who are obese usually go through puberty later than children who are not. This can make it difficult for an obese child to fit in socially with their age group.
  • Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Snoring is common in all children, but severe snoring is a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea where a child’s airway becomes obstructed during sleep. This can be caused by obesity.
  • Growth Hormone Disorders: Obesity is often linked with growth disorders that affect the production of growth hormone in children, including both too little or too much.


The best way to prevent children from becoming obese is by encouraging them to eat healthier and exercise regularly as well as enforcing those healthy habits at home. Parents should be aware of what their children are eating on a daily basis and should encourage nutritious meals and snacks instead of junk food. Also, parents should monitor how much time their children spend being active every day and attempt to increase that amount whenever possible.

These are just some preventative measures that can be taken against childhood obesity. Getting children up and moving around is an easy way to help them stay at a healthy weight and reduce the risks they will face when it comes to obesity and its effects.


It is clear that childhood obesity is a continuing problem in our society today. That being said, it is important for every individual, young or old, to be aware of how various factors can contribute to weight gain and do whatever they can to stay healthy. If you are currently obese or suffer from any of the symptoms, it is important to see a doctor immediately.

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