Childhood obesity

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Obesity (being very overweight) is a major health issue. Being obese can contribute to a range of health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea (interrupted
breathing during sleep) and some cancers, as well as psychological problems.

Obesity and being overweight:
Because obesity can lead to so many health problems, it’s important to help and support people who are obese or overweight to lose weight. Healthcare professionals use a measure called body
mass index (BMI) to help decide if you are overweight or obese.

What BMI means for children?
For children and young people, a different system is used. The healthcare professional should check their BMI against special charts that take account of their age and sex to decide if they are
overweight or obese.

Why is it important?

“Obese children and young people are more likely to become obese adults”
Being overweight or obese in childhood has consequences for health in both the short term and the longer term. Once established, obesity is notoriously difficult to treat, so prevention and early intervention are very important.

Potential health related consequences:
Type 2 Diabetes
Obstructive sleep apnea
Cardiovascular risk factors- found to have high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and abnormal glucose tolerance.
Psychological and mental health disorders: depression, or low self-esteem, eating disorders, body dissatisfaction and weight based teasing.

How can you help change your lifestyle?
If you are helping your child to stabilise their weight or lose weight, this will be easier if the whole family makes the same lifestyle changes. If you are also overweight you should be encouraged to try to lose weight at the same time as your child. Parents should usually take responsibility for making changes to their child’s diet, and encouraging them to become more active, particularly if the child is under 12. But the preferences and views of the child or young person should also be taken into account when deciding what changes to make.

How much physical activity should you be doing?
Children should do at least 60 minutes of moderate activity each day – this can be in one go, or in shorter sessions of 10 minutes or more. Children who are already overweight may need to do more than 60 minutes of activity to lose weight. Good ways to encourage children to become more active include:

– reducing the amount of time they spend sitting down, for example watching the television, on a computer or playing video games
– giving them the chance to be more active generally, for example by walking, cycling, or playing active games.
– helping them take part in regular activities that they enjoy, such as dancing, sports or swimming.

Do you need to go on a special diet?
Your healthcare professional may recommend changes in what your child eats, but this should always be with other treatment or support, such as help with becoming more active, and should be
changes they can stick to. Any advice on food should fit in with general advice on healthy eating, and avoiding sweets and sugary drinks. Ideally, the whole family should make the same changes.

Is there medicine that can help you reduce weight?
For children, generally medicines are not used as first line management. There are only a few paediatric specialist clinics around the country.

Your GP or hospital practitioner may consider referring to them after diet and lifestyle changes have been addressed and if their weight still puts them at serious health risk.

Will you need to see a specialist for losing weight?

Specialist input is usually not required if you have addressed diet and lifestyle changes. If you feel your child needs specialist help you should discuss with your GP especially if they have another
medical condition, or special needs (for example, a learning disability).

Could an operation help you?
For children, surgery is not generally recommended. In very rare cases, an operation may be suggested for a young person who has been through puberty and is seriously obese. This will need to be done by a team with experience and special skills in treating young people, and the young person will need support before and after the operation.

Local Resources:
HENRY: Health Exercise Nutrition for the Really Young
NHS Choices website
MEND: Healthy lifestyle programmes for children and families.
MORE LIFE: healthy lifestyle programmes for children and families

Sources of advice and information:
Weight Concern,,