Obesity in children has become a very important health issue as more and more of the pediatric population falls into this category. Currently, the percentage of overweight kids in the 2-5 year old group has increased from 5% to approximately 10.4%, 6-11 years from 6.5% to 19.6% and 12-19 years from 5%-18.10%. For pediatricians and parents, this is very concerning due to the risk of the development of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes and respiratory illnesses such as sleep apnea. Unfortunately, exercise is on the backburner for the pediatric population as many schools have decreased physical education programs. Children have become more sedentary with the advent of computer games, watch more television than previous generations and have increased access to high calorie foods and drinks. Thus, it is a struggle for many families to overcome obesity.
Pediatricians use the body mass index or BMI most often as a tool in determining whether or not a child is overweight. Once the BMI is calculated using the child’s height and weight, it is plotted on a graph to determine the amount of body fat and its corresponding percentile. You can easily calculate the BMI yourself by taking your child’s weight in pounds, dividing it twice by the height in inches and multiplying this number by 703. For example, the BMI would be 19 if your child weighs 40 lbs and is 38 inches tall or 40/38/38x703=19.47. This number would then be plotted on a gender specific graph of BMI versus Age to determine the percentile. The weight is normal if the BMI is between the 5th and 85th percentile and obese if at or above the 95th percentile. Between 85th and 95th, the weight falls into category of overweight.
Managing obesity in a child often requires the involvement of the entire family. A child is more likely to succeed if everyone in the household adopts a healthier lifestyle of making better food choices and becoming more physically active. Families can begin this process by encouraging everyone to eat meals together. Other ideas include: increasing accessibility to fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and whole grain breads and cereals. When cooking foods, broiling instead of frying is better to decrease intake of fat. Discourage fast foods, candies, chips, soda and other sugary drinks. Keep in mind that children may rebel if these items are cut out entirely so use your best judgment as to when to allow certain "treats". Please refer to the food guide pyramid for specific food requirements.
Many families also have questions about how to incorporate exercise into the daily routine. The key is to make it fun! Activities such as rollerblading, biking, football, basketball, jogging, and swimming are bound to get bodies in motion. The following guidelines published by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education can be used as a guide to determine the amount of physical activity for your child: infants have no specific requirements for minimum daily activity, toddlers should have a minimum of 1 ½ hours with 30 minutes of planned activities and 60 minutes of free play, preschoolers should have 2 hours with 60 minutes of planned and 60 minutes of free play, and the school aged child should have 1 hour or more of physical activity. There are also gym classes, weight camps and hospital sponsored family weight programs that may be available to you if your child meets the criteria set for acceptance. Insurance coverage varies per plan. Your child’s pediatrician can assist with this determination and health clearance before starting these programs.
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