Symptoms and causes

Not all children carrying extra pounds are overweight or obese. Some children have larger than average body frames. And children normally carry different amounts of body fat at the various stages of development. So you might not know just by looking at your child if weight is a health concern.

The body mass index (BMI), which provides a guideline of weight in relation to height, is the accepted measure of overweight and obesity. Your child's doctor can help you figure out if your child's weight could pose health problems by using growth charts, the BMI and, if necessary, other tests.

Lifestyle issues — too little activity and too many calories from food and drinks — are the main contributors to childhood obesity. But genetic and hormonal factors might play a role as well. For example, recent research has found that changes in digestive hormones can affect the signals that let you know you're full.

Many factors — usually working in combination — increase your child's risk of becoming overweight:

  • Diet. Regularly eating high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, baked goods and vending machine snacks, can easily cause your child to gain weight. Candy and desserts also can cause weight gain, and more and more evidence points to sugary drinks, including fruit juices, as culprits in obesity in some people.
  • Lack of exercise. Children who don't exercise much are more likely to gain weight because they don't burn as many calories. Too much time spent in sedentary activities, such as watching television or playing video games, also contributes to the problem.
  • Family factors. If your child comes from a family of overweight people, he or she may be more likely to put on weight. This is especially true in an environment where high-calorie foods are always available and physical activity isn't encouraged.
  • Psychological factors. Personal, parental and family stress can increase a child's risk of obesity. Some children overeat to cope with problems or to deal with emotions, such as stress, or to fight boredom. Their parents may have similar tendencies.
  • Socioeconomic factors. People in some communities have limited resources and limited access to supermarkets. As a result, they may opt for convenience foods that don't spoil quickly, such as frozen meals, crackers and cookies. In addition, people who live in lower income neighborhoods might not have access to a safe place to exercise.

Childhood obesity can have complications for your child's physical, social and emotional well-being.

Nov. 17, 2016
References
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