What is obesity?

There is still no internationally accepted method of defining obesity in childhood. However, the clinical diagnosis can usually be made on simple inspection of the child as these children appear very fat. A body mass index for age above the 97th centile is regarded as obesity in older children and adolescents.

The diagnosis of obesity can usually be made by simple inspection.

A high skin-fold thickness can also be used to define obesity. Waist circumference may also be useful. Short, fat children need investigation for endocrine abnormalities.

Obesity is a common childhood problem in affluent countries and over the past 20 years has reached epidemic proportions in some communities, especially with girls. Obese children have excessive fat stores due to a high energy intake and inadequate exercise. The cause is almost always due to the child’s lifestyle. Fast foods, soft (fizzy) drinks and hours of watching TV each day are associated with obesity, as is rapid weight gain in infancy. Genetic factors are not as important as diet. However, many obese children have obese parents. Obese children have difficulty with sports and often have emotional problems due to a poor body image and lack of self confidence. They are miserable and unhappy with their weight and shape. Obese children, and especially obese adolescents, are at increased risk of growing up to be obese adults with a high risk of chronic illnesses in adulthood (hypertension, type II diabetes and heart disease).

Childhood obesity is a major problem in wealthy countries.

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