Overweight Kids: Facts, Causes, and Solutions Every Parent Should Know

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Get involved in solving a global issue and learn the interventions involving physical exercise and balanced diet for overweight kids.

World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that childhood overweight and obesity is on the rise and is one of the major public health challenges of the 21st century.1

“The problem is global and is steadily affecting many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. The prevalence has increased at an alarming rate. Globally, in 2013 the number of overweight children under the age of five is estimated to be over 42 million. Close to 31 million of these are living in developing countries.”

According to WHO, overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.2

Determining the Causes that Attributes to Childhood Overweight and Obesity

Children and adolescents cannot choose the environment they live or food they eat. Moreover, they have restricted understanding of the long-term effects of their behavior. In association with the social and economic development and policies in education, agriculture, transportation, urban planning, environment, food processing, distribution, and marketing, WHO proposed two factors that attribute to childhood overweight and obesity.

  1. A global shift in diet towards increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals, and other healthy micronutrients;
  2. A trend towards decreased physical activity levels due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of recreation time, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.3

However, there is an interesting study conducted to find out the real and more manageable cause for the increasing childhood overweight and obesity; the study narrowed down to the family, particularly to the parents of the overweight and obese children.
Causes that Attributes to Childhood Overweight and Obesity
Study: How do parents see their overweight and obese children?

A study on childhood obesity entitled, Change in Misperception of Child’s Body Weight among Parents of American Preschool Children, reports that most parents of overweight or obese children are in denial about their children’s unhealthy size. This parents’ state of thinking that their children are “just about the right weight” is called the Goldilocks syndrome.

The study consisted of two groups of overweight or obese children ages 2-5 years: early survey of 3,839 children in 1988-1994 and recent survey of 3,151 children in 2007-2012. Parents were asked whether they considered their child, to be overweight, underweight, or just about the right weight.4

overweight child

Furthermore, the result showed that parents were likely to compare their own children with their peers, when thinking about their weight, rather than looking at medical recommendations.

So, how is overweight or obesity measured in children?

To further deepen the understanding on the issue, it is best to know the difference between overweight and obesity. The difference is determined by the calculation of both elements.

With several researches on hand, experts have agreed to use body mass index (BMI) to determine childhood overweight and obesity. BMI is computed by dividing a person’s weight (kg) by the square of height (m). In equation, we have:

Overweight is defined as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex. Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex. Extreme obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 120% of the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.

The body composition of children differs by age and sex. Therefore, the child’s weight status is determined using an age- and sex-specific percentile for BMI. Body fat are not measured directly by BMI but studies proved that BMI is correlated with more direct measures of fat, such as skinfold thickness measurements, densitometry, and other methods (2000 CDC Growth Charts).5

Why should parents care?

Childhood obesity has significant health consequences, including high chance of premature death and disability in adulthood. Overweight and obese children are more likely to retain their unhealthy size when they become adults. At a younger age, they can acquire non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Fact: At least 2.6 million people each die as a result of being overweight or obese.6, 7
consequences of obesity

Intervention: The Role of Parents

Therefore, parents are advised to take the primary role in living and promoting healthy lifestyle. As the people who have direct contact with their children, parents are responsible in helping their children lose weight. WHO suggests the following strategies in fighting the childhood obesity epidemic.


Suggestions for the promotion of healthy nutrition at home

For infants and young children:

  • breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life;
  • continuously breastfed until 2 years and beyond, complemented with a variety of adequate, safe and nutritient dense complementary foods;
  • avoid the use of added sugars and starches when feeding formula;
  • accept the child’s ability to regulate energy intake rather than feeding until the plate is empty;
  • assure the appropriate micronutrient intake needed to promote optimal linear growth.

For children and adolescents:

  • provide healthy breakfast before each school day;
  • serve healthy school snacks to children (whole-grain, vegetables, fruits);
  • promote intake of fruits and vegetables;
  • restrict intake of energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods (e.g. packaged snacks);
  • restrict intake of sugars-sweetened soft drinks;
  • ensure opportunity for family meals;
  • limit exposure to marketing practices (e.g. limit television-viewing);
  • teach children to resist temptation and marketing strategies;
  • provide information and skills to make healthy food choices.

Suggestions for the promotion of physical activity at home

  • reduce non-active time (e.g. television viewing, computer);
  • encourage safe walking/bicycling to school and to other social activities;
  • make physical activity part of the family’s daily routine such as designating time for family walks or playing active games together and;
  • ensure that the activity is age appropriate and provide protective equipment such as helmets, wrist pads, and knee pads.

The real problem lies not in how can children lose weight but in how parents should recognize and take appropriate measures in helping their fat children lose weight.

“Childhood obesity is best tackled at home through improved parental involvement, increased physical exercise, better diet and restraint from eating.” – Bob Filner




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