Childhood obesity is a growing problem, with about 20 percent of kids and teens affected, according to the CDC. But just what is childhood obesity, and why is it a concern?
Childhood obesity is measured by excess body fat and a child's BMI. BMI is a term you might be familiar with, and it's a ratio of weight to height. And that's not the only things doctors are looking at.
"Anytime there's rapid weight gain in childhood , that keeps going, that's when we worry about obesity." Dr. Elizabeth Shepard is a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford. She also says that obesity can start very early, even in infancy and the first six months of life. "If a child gains weight and then they maintain that same pattern of growth throughout childhood, that's not as concerning as if we see very rapid weight gain. "
Most of the time, however, this excess weight gain can start anywhere from the 3 to 4 years old. Shepard says, "Sometimes in the school age range, and then it continues into the teen years and into adulthood. The most common complication in a young child would be sleep apnea, and that's simply from excess pressure on the neck. So a child would have trouble breathing at night and the parent might hear snoring. As you get into the early school age children, we can start to see things like high cholesterol and fat deposits in the liver. Around the pre-adolescent stage, we start to see prediabetes and even diabetes."
And there's no one cause for childhood obesity. Huntsville pediatric hospitalist Dr. Kym Middleton says, "There's definitely some genetics component to it, but there's also availability. So, it is much easier and cheaper to get foods of higher calorie density type foods, foods that aren't good for your nutrition. But, also there's increased screen time now."