Obesity: Meaning, Reasons, Risks And Chronic Diseases

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What is Obesity and How to Measure it?

A child is said to be obese when he or she is significantly overweight as compared to children of similar age and height. The weight might vary according to the body frame and development stage. For example, between the ages of two to nine, the growth rate will be steady. On entering puberty, usually from nine years onwards, there will be a growth spurt leading to weight gain. The most common measure to assess obesity is BMI which is calculated as weight divided by height (kg/m2). The weight gain due to growth or hereditary factors is normal. But the weight gain due to lack of activity and excessive empty calories leads to various health issues.

Major Contributing Factors for Obesity:

Data from the International Obesity Task Force indicate that 22 million of the world’s children under 5 years of age are overweight or obese (Deitel, 2002). The major contributing factors are, change in the food preferences with an inclination towards fatty fried foods, increase in consumption of ready to eat or fast food as an effect of promotional advertisements, increase in time spent on electronic gadgets, decrease in outdoor activity, excessive sugar consumption through soft drinks and other so-called health drinks, stress due to changing family structure, etc.

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Health Issues Due to Obesity:

Childhood obesity is becoming a serious health concern as it may lead to chronic health issues. The number of diabetes and heart disease cases is increasing alarmingly in children, due to overweight. Obese kids are more prone to asthma issues and sleep disorders like sleep apnea and snoring. Obese kids will have a negative self-image and low self-esteem leading to various psychological and social problems. These kids are also at increased risk of bone and joint problems. Overweight girls might face irregular menstrual cycles and fertility problems in adulthood. All these factors contribute to the reduction of overall life expectancy.

How to Nurture Good Eating Habits and Prevent Obesity?

The whole family plays an important role in preventing obesity and improving the kid’s health. Parents are the best role models for their children. So if parents follow healthy eating and exercise regimen, the kids will follow it. Kids should be involved in meal planning as well as preparations right from the procurement of groceries and vegetables from the market. The lesser junk food you get at home, the lesser are the chances of consuming unhealthy food. This involvement will encourage them to make healthy choices further in life and increase their self-esteem as their opinion is valued.

Avoid using their favorite food as bate to get things done from them. For example, Giving chocolate or candies if the child eats whatever is there on the plate. Try finding out better ways to bring behavioral changes. Like talking to kids about their favorite subject rather than feeding them forcefully while watching cartoon shows or rhymes. Avoid force-feeding kids when they are not hungry. This hampers the natural signals of hunger and kids eat out of habit instead of real hunger. A complete ban on outside food will not work as kids might not be ready for sudden change, so gradually work towards shifting their preferences towards healthy food. You can treat them once in a month or two, so their cravings are satisfied.

Start healthy eating habits right from early childhood. Kids eating a variety of healthy foods from the beginning tend to stick to the same. Kids should be refrained from using screens especially while eating. Good preparation, colorful ingredients, and attractive serving appeal to senses making the food more satisfying.

Kids should be encouraged to have a variety of local fruits thereby increasing their immunity. Keep them active with outdoor play so that their metabolism increases. Parents should keep an eye on nutritional information given on packets and kids should be made aware of the same. This will make them understand why to avoid a certain type of food. Smaller kids can be engaged in fireless cooking and elder kids can prepare simple dishes under the supervision of their parents. Kids will eat their own preparation with interest.

The Role of Psychology and Self-Perception in the Food Choices of Adolescents:

Adolescence is a period when the development of the reproductive system, sexual maturation, formation of identity, gender roles set in, and issues relating to identity, gender roles, and related problems arise (Nath, 2008). Also at this stage, there will be lesser parental intervention and more independent choices. Food preferences developed at this age are likely to persist throughout adulthood.

Because of more independence in choice, adolescents tend to choose more fatty foods, carbonated drinks, and sugary foods due to taste. Despite knowing the harmful effects of unhealthy food habits, they continued to eat junk foods and the reasons being their taste preferences and strong desire to do so. Another barrier to proper healthy food habits was a lack of time due to their busy schedule (Mallikharjun, Nagalla, Kodavalla, & Ginnela, 2006). There is a careless attitude due to immaturity at this age which reflects in their food choices.

Adolescents are more concerned about their looks and image. They do pay attention to calorie contents sometimes but might not have proper food with all required nutrients due to lack of time, lack of availability of home-cooked food, and also lack of knowledge. For achieving a slim body many times they revert to wrong diets resulting in nutritional deficiencies. A study on the diet and nutritional status of adolescent tribal population in nine states of India found that the mean intake of all the foodstuffs, especially the income-elastic foods, such as pulses, milk and milk products, oils and fats, and sugar and jaggery, was lower than the recommended levels of Indian Council of Medical Research (Mallikharjun, Nagalla, Kodavalla, & Ginnela, 2006).

Medical Conditions Arising out of Nutritional Deficiencies:

There has been considerable change in the diet pattern of children with increased consumption of unsaturated fat, excessively salty and sugary fast foods. Childhood obesity has been linked to numerous medical conditions. These conditions include, but are not limited to, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, hepatic steatosis (fatty liver disease), cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, gallstones, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance, skin conditions, menstrual abnormalities, and orthopedic problems.

Let’s learn more about some of these chronic diseases:

Type II Diabetes:

Children with obesity face four times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to children with a body mass index (BMI) in the normal range, according to a study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society. Diabetes could result in various health problems as increased risk of heart disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, slow healing, and many more. The symptoms include excessive thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, and tiredness. Incorporating a healthy diet, proper exercise routines, proper rest can help in the prevention of obesity and type II diabetes.

Cardio Vascular Diseases:

Obese children are more likely to have high cholesterol and high BP which are the main risk factors leading to heart diseases. Although these diseases develop gradually towards adulthood and there might not be any visible symptoms in children, preventive measures need to be taken care of right from childhood to eliminate the risk factors.

According to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2015, Forty percent of the obese children were considered ‘high-risk’ because of problems with the thickened muscle in the heart which were associated with impaired pumping ability. None of the children in the study showed physical symptoms, but the imaging tests showed significant heart muscle abnormalities. The researchers caution that heart problems during childhood may lead to more complicated health conditions in adulthood as well as premature death from heart disease. These can again be avoided by maintaining healthy active li with a healthy diet and good physical activity (American Heart Association, 2015).

Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD):

NAFLD is now the most prevalent form of chronic liver disease in childhood and adolescence, affecting approximately 10%–20% of the general pediatric population. Within the next 10 years, pediatric NAFLD is expected to become the most prevalent cause of liver pathology, liver failure, and indication for liver transplantation in childhood and adolescence in the Western world (Temple, Cordero, Li, Nguyen, & Oben, 2016).

Though NAFLD often remains asymptomatic until significant damage to the liver and/or other systems has occurred, Children may also report non-specific symptoms, including abdominal pain due to stretching of the liver capsule, fatigue, irritability, headaches, and difficulty concentrating (Berardis & Sokal, 2014). NAFLD may progress to cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease, so it has to be treated on a priority basis. A well-balanced diet and regular exercise help in promoting healthy growth and works as the first line of treatment as well.


  1. American Heart Association. (2015, November 10). Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151110093917.htm: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151110093917.htm
  2. Berardis, S., & Sokal, E. (2014). Pediatric non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: an increasing public health issue. European journal of pediatrics, 173(2), 131–139. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s00431-013-2157-6
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  4. Mallikharjun, K., Nagalla, B., Kodavalla, V., & Ginnela, B. (2006). Diet and nutritional status of adolescent tribal population in 9 states of India. Asia Pacific Journal of clinical nutrition, 15, 64-71.
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  6. Temple, J., Cordero, P., Li, J., Nguyen, V., & Oben, J. (2016). A Guide to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Childhood and Adolescence. International journal of molecular sciences, 17, 947. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms17060947


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