Overweight children

Introduction

‘To exercise is to arouse… to change… to restore…’

A healthy and balanced diet, emotional well-being and sufficient exercise are not always obvious for children.

The number of children suffering from obesity is still growing. The World Health Organization estimates the number of obese children younger than 5 years worldwide at 43 million. In Belgium alone, 1 child out of 10 suffers from obesity! Between the ages of 9 and 12, 1 child out of 5 is overweight. This number increases to 1 out of 3 with adults.

Parents often think that the child will grow out of the problem. We know however that the older the child grows and the more explicit the overweight, the greater the chance that this overweight will still remain in adulthood.

It is necessary to teach healthy habits at a young age ; it is also the best way to sustain healthy habits at a later age. The parents as well as the child’s direct environment play an important part ; they are also responsible for the eating and moving habits and serve as a role model for a healthy lifestyle.

On this site you will find information on possible causes and consequences of overweight, a healthy weight for your child, tips on healthy food and exercise, etc.. It is suited to both parents with overweight children, and to people who want to prevent their children from being overweight and who want to pursue a healthy lifestyle.

When do children become overweight, obese?

To define overweight or obesity, we can use curves that display the weight in terms of length,  or MBI curves that display the BMI in terms of age.

In order to establish whether your child is overweight, Body Mass Index or BMI can be calculated. Therefore you divide the weight of your child (in kg) by the square of his/her height (in m). e.g. a 10 year old girl measures 1,38m and weighs 42 kg. Her BMI is 42/(1,38×1,38) = 22,05.

Because the relationship between weight and height changes constantly with age, every age has a different value which sets the limit for overweight and obesity, for girls as well as boys. Once your child’s BMI has been established, you can check in the column below whether he/she is overweight or obesie.

When the BMI value is lower than the figures in the column, then your child’s weight is good. In the example, the girl is overweight.

Reading children’s BMI.

  Overweight Obesity
Age BMI Boys BMI Girls BMI Boys BMI Girls
2 18,41 18,02 20,09 19.81
3 17,89 17,56 19,57 19,36
4 17,55 17,28 19,29 19,15
5 17,42 17,15 19,30 19,17
6 17,55 17,34 19,78 19,65
7 17,92 17,75 20,63 20,51
8 18,44 18,35 21,60 21,57
9 19,10 19,07 22,77 22,81
10 19,84 19,86 24,00 24,11
11 20,55 20,74 25,10 25,42
12 21,22 21,68 26,02 26,67

Source: Overgewicht bij kinderen en adolescenten/ C.M. Renders e.a. – Maarssen: Elsevier gezondheidszorg, 2003 –p.11.

Overweight children : A disturbed energy balance

Imbalance between intake of energy and consumption occurs when the balance between the intake of energy and the consumption of energy is disrupted.  Growing, playing, learning requires a lot of energy from children, which they get from food.  But when they take in more energy than they consume, their energy balance  becomes disturbed. This may be triggered by :

  • Genetic factors. If both parents are obese, there is a greater risk their children will develop obesity.
  • Environmental conditions and education. These are the most important causes of this disturbed balance. All factors which ensure an increased intake of energy or a reduced energy consumption may cause this.
  • Sugary and high fat products such as chocolate, crisps and soft drinks more and more suppress fruit and other healthy food.
  • Children do not move enough. Too often they are sitting still : in the class room, in the car, in front of television or computer games… Therefore they do not consume enough energy. They also develop too little muscle and basic stamina.
  • In some rare cases genetic diseases, use of certain medication, hormonal issues may cause overweight.
  • Psychological factors can also influence the eating pattern of children. Some children, for example, will find consolation in food and eat away their emotions.

Consequences of overweight/obese children

Children who are overweight  have a greater risk of being overweight as adults. 80% of  overweight children have weight problems as adults.

Overweight also increases the risk of developing other illnesses. Overweight increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and developing problems with the joints. But overweight may also cause mental problems such as anxiety, reduced self confidence, social isolation, depression and sleeping problems.

Many overweight children need not lose weight. It is more important for them to stabilize their weight. When they grow, their weight will get more in line with their height. Just examining, in a critical way, the child’s eating habits can help stabilize their weight. It is most important to organize how, what and when we eat. It does not always mean the child eats too much, often he/she eats the wrong things and eats snacks that are too sweet or too fat.

A healthy weight has many advantages, for everyone. Children with a healthy weight not only feel better, they also have more confidence. Exercise can prevent health issues. By improving their motor skills, children will burn more energy, have better muscles and a good general condition and be able to participate in sports activities without pain.