Weight gain and fat deposits are obvious symptoms of obesity in children, or so it might seem. In fact, symptoms of obesity in childhood can be difficult to spot, in part because of how rapidly a growing child's weight and height change.
Obesity in childhood is partially determined by taking the child's BMI score and comparing it to a standardized age-specific height and weight chart. BMI, or body mass index, uses a formula based on the child's height and weight. The higher the BMI score, the more body fat the child is likely to have.
Children's BMI scores are often expressed as a percentile. A child whose BMI score falls in the 60th percentile, for instance, has a higher weight to height ratio than 60 percent of children his age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues the growth charts used to compare childhood BMI scores, and breaks BMI percentiles down as follows:
BMI scores and visual weight gain may indicate symptoms of obesity in children, but both can be deceptive. A number of factors influence a child's weight at any given time, including body frame, individual growth rate and weight gain before a growth spurt.
A child with significant muscle mass may have the same BMI score as a child with less muscle and more fat, as the BMI formula does not distinguish between muscle tissue and fat.
Despite the complexities of children's weight fluctuations, excessive fat remains the main symptom of obesity in childhood. Other symptoms that can be present include:
Obesity in childhood can result in social embarrassment, teasing and bullying. Parents and medical professionals must remember that children who are obese can be very sensitive about their weight. Coupled with society's obsession with body image and thinness, obesity in children can progress into eating disorders such as binge eating or bulimia nervosa.
Preventing childhood obesity does not simply mean monitoring a child for outward symptoms of obesity. The best methods for preventing childhood obesity are providing healthy alternatives to junk food and staying active. Parents who are physically active and maintain healthy eating habits are likely to raise children who follow similar habits.
Although preparing healthy foods and staying active are often time-consuming activities, preventing childhood obesity is much easier than treating the symptoms of obesity in children.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). About BMI for children and teens. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/childrens_bmi/about_childrens_bmi.html.
Ferry, R. (2007). Obesity in children. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/obesity_in_children/article_em.htm.
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Childhood obesity: Symptoms. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/childhood-obesity/DS00698/DSECTION=symptoms.
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