There’s considerable hype in the news about the incidence of childhood obesity and the risks. As usual, scare stories abound with calls for government intervention and/or large-scale social changes. But apart from the over-the-top reactions, there are some basic facts that remain.
With the increase in the availability and lower cost of food in Western countries, all but the poorest individuals are at no risk of starving. At the same time, convenience foods, fast food establishments and snacks everywhere have made it all the more likely that many will consume too many calories.
At the same time, with the popularity of computer and Internet activities, children (and teens) spend a larger percentage of time being sedentary than in decades past. TV watching and talking on the phone, of course, have been popular for decades. But with the addition of the Internet, hours of physical activity per week has declined for many.
The result is that children today are on average heavier than they were a few decades ago. They also tend to consume more foods high in complex sugars and fat, and less fiber, fruits and vegetables. The net effect is, for some, obesity.
Obesity is measured somewhat differently for children than for adults, as a result of their rapidly changing bodies and metabolic rates that differ. Children often experience growth spurts that would skew any measurement that used BMI (Body Mass Index) primarily. Instead of using BMI alone as a starting point, BMI is combined with age and gender to create a more accurate picture.
Where an adult would be considered (borderline) obese with a BMI of 30 or greater, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) charts would designate a child as obese at the 95th percentile. The two are roughly equivalent, but it’s necessary to look at the charts for a more careful breakdown.
Percentage of body fat is another important measurement and here again the numbers differ by sex. An obese boy would be identified as one whose body fat was 25% or more of total body weight. For girls the number is 32% of body fat as a percentage of total weight.
One major reason for the difference is simply that females naturally have a higher percentage of body fat their entire lives. For adult males the number is roughly 15% for a healthy, fit individual. But for women the number is around 27%.
As with adults, the way to reduce body fat and excess weight involves the twin partners of proper diet and regular exercise. This will usually involve some lifestyle changes. These are often easier to implement for younger children, and have the added advantage of establishing good habits that typically carry on into the teen years and beyond.
Start on the road to good health young and it will be easier to maintain into adulthood.