Obesity in children - a growing problem
It's official - 19 per cent of five-year-olds and a third of 15-year-olds in the UK are overweight - so worryingly, there's a real danger of our children becoming obese. How can we stop it?
The first problem with obesity in children is that it's harder to pinpoint than in adults (anything over a Body Mass Index of 25). Growth spurts and different rates of development have to be considered, so it's left to the GP to rely on their instinct to judge whether a child is obese.
What are the causes?
It's true that genetics can cause obesity in some children - those with parents, brothers or sisters who are overweight may be at an increased risk of becoming overweight themselves. However, not all children with a family history of obesity will be overweight - proving that genetics only increase the likelihood of weight problems. But for the majority of children, a combination of diet, environment and lifestyle is to blame.
As a nation, we are eating fewer calories than ever but doing less exercise - and watching TV makes children so relaxed that they actually use less energy than the basic metabolic rate! When you look at our children's lifestyle today, it's not hard to see where else the problems lie - we drive them to school (because of safety fears); ready-to-eat snacks are a big part of their diet, and video games and the Internetencourage laziness and inactivity.
The biggest health worry for overweight children is heart disease, caused by high cholesterol and high blood pressure. And if the problem isn't tackled early, the risks are carried into adulthood. Obesity is also closely linked with diabetes. In the UK, cases of Type 2 diabetes - where the body is unable to use the insulin it produces, causing high levels of blood sugar - have started to appear in overweight children, and these numbers are likely to increase. Tragically for these children, they will have the disease for life. Breathing problems or asthma are also higher in overweight children, and the risk that they will develop various orthopaedic (bone-related) problems - like hip and knee joint changes.