Understanding Childhood Obesity
In my kids’ last doctor’s checkup, their pediatrician said my eldest is “obese.” At 2 years 5 months, she stands at 94 cm and weighs 15.7 kg. Although it is not yet alarming and considering her height and body frame, the pedia said that there is nothing to worry – for now. Still, she told me to minimize milk intake since that can contribute to her weight too. Plus, she’s turning three this year and she needs to start to let go of milk and use it only as a supplement. Otherwise, she can grow bigger and be considered as obese. In Filipino, baka mahirapan siya paglaki niya.
I didn’t panic, thinking that her only basis is my child’s BMI or body mass index. Being a defensive mom and considering her height and body frame and structure (which she inherited from her dad, unfortunately), I felt that using BMI as a basis for saying that a child is obese is not enough. Nonetheless, I followed her advice and encouraged my daughter to become physically active. At the same time, I researched about childhood obesity and here’s what I found out.
What is childhood obesity?
According to Mayo Clinic, childhood obesity is a serious medical condition where a child’s weight is more than the normal weight for his or her age and height. In Asia alone, childhood obesity is one the rise with more children eating unhealthily. Chubby kids may look cute NOW but once they start to reach the adolescent stage, this can lead to even serious problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even low self esteem.
For my daughter, her recommended weight is 12 kg where she is 3.7 kg more than the normal weight.
What is BMI? Is it a good indicator of childhood obesity?
BMI or body mass index is an indicator used to calculate a child’s body fat based on his or her weight in kilograms divided by height in meters. Although it doesn’t directly measure the amount of fat in child’s body, BMI has been used for many years for being simple, easy and inexpensive way to check the body fat levels.
However, there are restrictions to BMI. For instance, BMI doesn’t distinguish between body fat and muscle mass. Hence, a fit football player may be categorized as overweight or obese because it has higher BMI.
Also, BMI does not indicate the proportion of bone, muscles and fat in the body. Again, my daughter has a “bigger” frame than kids her age which she inherited from her father. But if you look at her closely, she neither has a bulging tummy nor folds in her arms and legs.
BMI doesn’t also relate to various ethnic groups. Categorically speaking, Asians have smaller, leaner bodies compared to Caucasians or Africans but this doesn’t mean Asians are not prone to obesity.
What causes childhood obesity?
For starters, genes play an important role on whether or not your child will become obese. However, this is not always the case. There are instances where some kids have a normal weight despite having a family history of obesity. At the same time, there are other causes of childhood obesity and every parent shouldn’t blame it solely on the genes. This includes:
- Lack of physical activity
- Unhealthy eating patterns
- Hormonal problems
- Psychological issues that triggers the child to eat more to “cope”
With my child, I am proud to say that she is one active tot who loves to play and run around the house. As to the eating patterns, I am still encouraging her to eat more vegetables (she loves fruits, though) and I don’t give her sweets all the time. Thankfully, my kid doesn’t like chocolates, ice cream and cake. I give her a cookie once in a while but that’s it. I found out that letting her eat cookies, crackers and anything processed can mess up her appetite so I avoid giving her one as much as possible.
What can you do to prevent childhood obesity?
Again, I am a defensive mom and I don’t want to call my child as obese. Still, here are some of the things I did to encourage my daughter to move around, plus some tips based on my research too.
- Become a good role model. Our kids look up to us so if we have unhealthy eating habits, then they are most likely to adapt it too. Every time my husband and I crave for something sweet, we don’t show it to our kids otherwise, their curiosity will take its course and they’ll end up eating our food. Remember, toddlers are very curios creatures and they love to explore everything around them.
- Stick to healthy snack alternatives. I am thankful that my eldest loves fruits. Instead of giving her a cookie for her merienda, I slice oranges, apples and bananas and place it nicely on a plate. At the same time, I don’t buy my kids unhealthy, processed foods.
- Encourage play time. My kid has a truckload of energy and to be honest, I don’t know where she is keeping it. According to experts, one way to prevent childhood obesity is to encourage kids to play and move around. With my daughter, we usually go out at 5PM for their pasyal time so she can run around and play. I also organized their playroom with all their toys in it and let her go in there every morning (or anytime of the day). I also enroll her in play classes and during my free time, we go to Gymboree so she can play and run around in the play area. Plus, it’s a good exercise for me too!
- Limit the use of technology. When our helpers left us, I just give my kids an iPad or let them watch TV so they can just stay put while I attend to other household matters. I realized that this has limited my kids’ mobility and reduced their physical activities. When I finally got new yayas, I gradually removed iPad and let them watch TV on a schedule so they can play, particularly my eldest. So far, it worked and the TV is only turned on every morning and at night, before they go to bed.
- Let them see you exercising. My husband has converted our house into a gym (haha!). Every time he works out, my daughter can easily see him bike or lift weights or jump rope and surprisingly, she imitates him.
- Plan family activities. Every Saturday, we go to my husband’s place so my kids can run around in the gym or swim in the pool. It is also a good family bonding for us because instead of staying in front of the TV or just going around the mall, my kids are able to play and sweat.
Getting rid of childhood obesity is a family effort. Although my toddler is not explicitly characterized as obese, why would I still wait for the day the doctor will tell me that she needs to tone down, right? After all, I have a lot of time to do something about it and instill in her a healthy but happy lifestyle.