How Family and Environment Impact Childhood Obesity

How Family and Environment Impact Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity has been the most difficult public health issue of the twenty-first century. Obesity in children is linked to an increased risk of morbidity and death. 

Prevention and treatment of obesity in children is a top priority in the present environment. It is caused due to a discrepancy between the number of calories consumed and the number of calories expended. It may also be caused by one or more variables such as genetic, behavioural, and environmental.

How does obesity affect children?

Obesity in children relates to being overweight or obese for a child’s age and height, which contributes to low self-esteem and depression. 

Childhood obesity leads to physical, psychological, and social health issues. Obesity in children and adolescents is a major medical disease.

Being obese or overweight may not apply to all children who exceed their maximum weight. Some children may have larger-than-average body proportions. Furthermore, during different phases of growth, children carry different quantities of body fat.

The BMI (body mass index) is a widely used metric for determining whether or not someone is overweight or obese. If your child’s BMI is higher than the acceptable range, he or she may be obese.

Improving your entire family’s food and exercise habits is one of the most effective ways to minimise childhood obesity. Childhood obesity may be treated and prevented, which helps to preserve your child’s health in the present as well as in the future.

How to measure Body Mass Index?

Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) that is the same as or higher than 95 per cent of their peers. The BMI is a measurement that is used to estimate your “weight status.” Your child’s BMI is determined by their height and weight. Your children’s gender and age are then used to estimate your BMI percentile (where your BMI number falls in proportion to other people).

The body mass index (BMI) is a cost-effective way to estimate body fat indirectly. The formula for calculating BMI is [weight (kg)/ height (m)2]. As children’s growth differs by age and gender, so do BMI norms. For children aged 2 to 20, the following definitions are used to determine weight status based on BMI.

  • Overweight ranges – 85th to the 95th percentile

  • Obese (category 1) – 95th percentile or higher

  • Severe (class II) obesity is defined as a body mass index of 120 per cent of the 95th percentile (99th percentile) or 35 kg/m2 (whichever is lower)

  • Class III obesity is defined as a BMI of 140 per cent of the 95th percentile or 40 kg/m2 and is a subtype of severe obesity.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises the use of BMI Z-score cut-offs of >1, > 2, and > 3 to determine whether someone is at risk of being overweight, overweight, or obese. The Z-score is calculated using the standard deviations from the mean.

Obesity in children is a major health concern and are at a high risk of developing chronic health issues in later life.

What causes obesity in children?

Childhood obesity is influenced by a variety of factors, including family history, psychological concerns, and lifestyle. Many factors, most of which play a major role in childhood obesity.

Your children are at a risk of childhood obesity if they come under the following factors :

Diets high in calories

Eating high-calorie food regularly, such as fast food, baked goods, and vending machine snacks might lead to weight gain in your child. 

Candy and pastries or desserts can also contribute to weight gain, and there is growing evidence that suggests – sugary drinks, such as fruit juices and sports drinks are to blame for some individual’s obesity. 

Lack of physical activity

An Introverted child who does not love outdoor activities/exercise or who prefers to stay alone laze around or prefers to stay in bed for a long time or play video games are all at higher risk of childhood obesity because of their sedentary lifestyle.

Since they do not burn as many calories as children who exercise regularly, they are more prone to gain weight. Sedentary activities such as watching television or scrolling social media by simply sitting or sleeping all the time or playing video games contribute to the condition as well.

Family history

Your child may be more prone to gain weight if he or she has a genetic predisposition to obesity. This is particularly true in a setting where high-calorie meals are readily available and physical activity is discouraged. Sometimes, it might be due to their genetics but this can be prevented by following proper physical activity, diet and lifestyle modifications.

Psychological factors

If they experience personal, parental or familial stress, it is more likely to contribute to a child’s obesity risk. Adolescents may binge eat to cope with challenges or emotions like stress or boredom. It is a possibility that their parents share similar habits.

Socioeconomic factors – Limited resources

Particular people in some communities have limited resources and grocery access. As a result, they may opt for shelf-stable convenience items like frozen foods or processed food. Additionally, individuals who reside in lower-income areas may lack access to a safe environment to exercise.

Environmental factors

Advertisements for unhealthy meals are frequently seen on television shows and social media also trigger children to prefer that particular food which leads to childhood obesity due to overconsumption of particular food due to addiction. 

Also, environmental variables influence children’s perceptions of the relevance of physical activity.

Childhood Obesity and Its Health Consequences

Compared to their peers who lead healthy lifestyles, obese children are more likely to develop health complications. There are two kinds – the effect on physical health and the effect on mental well-being.

Here is the list of health consequences faced by obese children – 

  • Diabetes
  • Heart Problems
  • Asthma
  • Sleep Apnoea
  • Joint pains
  • Liver disorders
  • Mental Health


Ways to prevent childhood obesity

Set an example for your child to follow

Make it a regular practice to eat well and exercise regularly. Children learn from parents, it makes inculcating healthy habits easier.


Have healthy snack options in your pantry

Air-popped popcorn without butter adds fruit flavour by using puree, fruits with low-fat yoghurt, baby vegetables with hummus or whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk are just a few healthy snack options for your children.

Keep meals diverse and appetising

If your child does not like a new cuisine right away, do not get disheartened. Always try to make food according to their taste buds so choose spice and herbs wisely to their liking.

Stay motivated

Non-food rewards/gifts or motivation should be considered. Promising a dessert for good behaviour is not well received in the long run. Instead, try explaining the nutritional value of food and encourage them to choose food wisely.

Make sure the child receives enough rest

Obesity may be increased due to poor sleeping habits, according to several studies. Sleep deprivation can lead to hormonal imbalance, which can result in an increased appetite and frequent binge eating.

Healthy Eating and Nutrition for Obese Children

It is critical to change the dietary habit of children who are obese. Your child’s eating habits are changed by parental influence. Most children eat what their parents provide, healthy eating habits must begin with the parent. 

Instead of cutting down the food they like, start by reducing the frequency and quantity of desserts and soft drinks you and your children consume. There are plenty of empty calories in drinks. Opt for water or low-fat or skim milk. 

Reduce your fast-food intake and include more home cooked food. Prepare a meal with your child and share it with your family. This can help improve your bond and your child’s eating habits.

If you do not see any change in weight, you might also require the assistance of a nutritionist or dietitian. 

How to Combat Childhood Obesity?

There are numerous ways to assist in the prevention of childhood obesity. The most effective one is a change in their lifestyle which helps them combat childhood obesity.

Increase your fitness level and encourage them to do physical activity along with you. Boost your child’s physical activity to promote weight loss.

To keep kids engaged, use the phrase “task” instead of “exercise” or “workout.” A 7-year-old could prefer to play ball games outside rather than go for a stroll around the block. Encourage your children to participate in their favourite outdoor activity. 

To stay healthy, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children get at least one hour of physical activity everyday.

As we previously discussed in social well-being additional family activities are needed for them to stay motivated. Find activities that the whole family will enjoy. This is not only a wonderful way to engage with your child, but it also teaches them by example. Hiking, swimming, or simply playing tag might help your child become more active and begin to lose weight. To avoid boredom, make sure to mix up activities.

Reduce children’s screen time. Obesity is more frequent in children who spend hours on television, playing video games, or using smartphones or other electronics. The reason for this, according to Harvard School of Public Health studies, could be twofold – 

  1. Screen usage takes up time that could otherwise be spent doing aerobic exercise or encouraging them to dance or playing outdoor games as option.

  2. More time spent in front of the television means more time for snacking, as well as more exposure to advertisements of high-sugar, high-fat food.

As discussed above, childhood obesity is becoming very popular and severe problem and increases risk of developing chronic conditions. Adults in their lives, such as parents, teachers, and other caregivers can provide guidance and ways to lead a healthy lifestyle. 

Varsha,
Specialist Dietitian, Simplyweight

The London Obesity & Endocrine Clinic specialises in Weight Loss and Endocrine disorders at the Specialist Weight Loss Centre in Chennai, India. We offer face to face and virtual consultations with our specialist clinical lead, Dr Rajeswaran, who has 25+ years experience in this field. We support people with Obesity related medical conditions including Type 2 Diabetes, Fatty Liver, Infertility, Erectile Dysfunction, and Endocrine disorders like Hypothyroidism, Hyperthyroidism, PCOS, Hirsutism, Adrenal Dysfunction, Menopause, Pituitary problems and Sexual Dysfunction. Our services predominantly cover major cities in India including New Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai and PuneWe also offer aesthetic treatments, metabolic master health checkups, bespoke weight management plans and an unique online weight loss plan for wellness and weight management. Get in touch to transform your life!

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