Obesity has become very prevalent in our population.  Obesity is a condition in which the body has an excess amount of body fat. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. So, this is a big problem (no pun intended). The National Institute of Health defines adult obesity as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. For children, overweight is defined as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex. Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex.

BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. There are many internet sites that will do this calculation for you. You can go to the CDC BMI calculator. For children and teens, BMI is age and sex specific and is often referred to as BMI for age. A child’s weight status (that is, are they underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese) is determined using an age and sex specific percentile for BMI rather than the BMI categories used for adults. This is because a child’s body composition varies as they age and varies between boys and girls. Therefore, BMI levels among children and teens need to be expressed relative to other children of the same age and sex. We assess BMI for children at each check up visit and compare that value to age and sex matched controls.  A weight status category is then ascertained.

Weight Status Category BMI Percentile Range

  • Underweight Less than the 5th percentile
  • Normal or Healthy Weight 5th percentile to less than the 85th percentile
  • Overweight 85th to less than the 95th percentile
  • Obese 95th percentile or greater

Obesity is a serious health problem because it can cause heart disease, diabetes, heart attack, gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cancer, prostate enlargement, and reduce female fertility.  In addition, being overweight can stress a person’s joints and degrade cartilage.  A form of low-grade systemic inflammation is associated with obesity. Being obese can make it difficult to exercise and can create body image problems with resulting social withdrawal. All in all, obesity damages the body and mind in a myriad of ways. The sad fact is: obesity is preventable. Eating a healthy diet and getting exercise is the simple answer to treating and preventing obesity. A simple phrase is instructive: eat less and move more.  Go to http://myplate.gov for information on how to eat a healthy diet.

Unfortunately, most Americans do not eat a healthy diet. This is the primary cause of the childhood obesity epidemic: poor food choices and a lack of exercise. The availability of large portions of fattening junk food appears to be linked to obesity. Said another way, children are obese because they are fed the wrong foods, at the wrong times, in excess amounts and they don’t get enough exercise. An example of this starts at birth. Babies who are fed commercial formula have a higher obesity rate than babies who are breastfed. Overfeeding with formula can start the obesity problem.

The food industry has helped promulgate the erroneous message that inactivity, rather than consumption of manufactured, calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods, is the prime cause of obesity. Food and beverage intake along with calorie overconsumption are actually more important than physical activity in weight maintenance and loss. Intake of chicken meat, which has over ten times the calories and fat of chickens a hundred years ago, may contribute to obesity risk. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in foods and increased uric acid levels from meat and sugar intake may increase obesity risk. As your grandmother used to say, eat more fruits and vegetables, is a vital message. The cure for the obesity epidemic is found in the produce aisle of the supermarket and on the ball field.

We find that children who play a lot of video games and have a lot of screen time are at risk for obesity.  Therefore it is important to limit screen time and get your kids outside to play. Not getting a good night’s sleep is another potential risk factor for obesity.

American heart associations Life’s Simple 7

The following recommendations are from the American Heart Association.  They are seven simple things you can do to have a healthy heart. Controlling obesity and getting exercise are important to your heart.

  1. Manage Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer.
  2. Control Cholesterol: High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages.
  3. Reduce Blood Sugar: Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
  4. Get Active: Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love. Simply put, daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life.
  5. Eat Better: A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy – for life! Again, as stated above, eating healthy is eating vegetables and fruit.
  6. Lose Weight: When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton. You give yourself the gift of active living, you lower your blood pressure and you help yourself feel better, too.
  7. Stop Smoking: Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health.
Reviewed by Dr. Byrum on 3/22/17