One of the most serious health concerns of the 21st century is childhood obesity. The numbers have increased at an alarming rate and it was seen as a global problem. In 2019, WHO reported that almost 38 million children below 5 years of age are overweight or obese.1
Children who are overweight and obese are likely to stay obese into adulthood. There could be higher chances of development of noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.2
Due to this health challenge, maintaining good health in children is essential to prevent serious health conditions such as early development of noncommunicable diseases. Hence, a healthy everyday lifestyle should be observed today in order to protect lifelong health.
BMI as a screening tool
Body mass index (BMI) is the most useful method to screen for overweight and obese children. It measures adiposity or fatness and can be used to relate the appropriate body weight for height.3
Body mass index is computed by dividing the weight of the child (kg) by his height in square meters (m2). The result is plotted in the appropriate BMI-for-age percentile chart. The plotted BMI-for-age will classify if the child is healthy, overweight, or obese. For BMI percentiles, between 5th and 85th is considered healthy, above 85th is considered overweight while above 95th is considered obese.3
Increased BMI is strongly linked with the risk of cardiovascular diseases and other potential nutrition-related health concerns.1 High BMI can be attributed to several factors. Studies in children showed that early protein intake has been associated with faster weight gain which, in turn, increases BMI.4
By knowing a child’s BMI, parents and healthcare providers can work together to help prevent lifelong health consequences such as obesity in adulthood, heart disease, and diabetes.
Obesity is preventable and treatable. Advocating good nutrition and healthy lifestyle today should be a priority to prevent the increasing rate of overnutrition among children.1 Healthful eating patterns should be directed toward modifying intake and behavior. Parents should also model proper eating behavior to their children.5
Promote intake of adequate, safe, and nutrient-dense food including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy among children. A daily serving of milk is a good source of calcium and nutrients for growth and development. Milk with low levels of protein may help reduce the risk of becoming obese later in life. Giving milk with 100% lactose and no added sucrose lowers the risk of being overweight.
Children should also avoid highly-sugared beverages such as sweetened fruits juice, soda, and milk with added sugar to prevent obesity, dental caries, and diarrhea. Overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages also increases the risk for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and other gastrointestinal problems. Lastly, in order to prevent unhealthy weight gain, preschool children should be advised to limit their screen time and encourage at least one hour of active playtime in a safe and supportive environment.
Overnutrition poses major health challenges such as early development of noncommunicable diseases. Immediate action should be taken today to help prevent further increase in the trend of overweight and obesity, and to protect the future health of children.
1. World Health Organization. Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health [Internet]. [cited 24 May 2020]. Available from: https://www.who.int/nmh/wha/59/dpas/en.
2. Simmonds M, et al. Predicting adult obesity from childhood obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev.2016 Feb;17(2):95-107.
3. Kleinman R and Greer F. Pediatric Nutrition 8th Edition. 2020 American Academy of Pediatrics.
4. Luque V, et al. Early Programming by Protein Intake: The effect of protein on adiposity development and the growth and functionality of vital organs. Nutr Metab Insights.2015;8:49-56.
5. Ferranti S and Mendeson M. Pediatric Prevention of Adult Cardiovascular Disease: Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle and Identifying at risk children [Internet]. 23 April 2019 [cited 24 May 2020]. Available from: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/pediatric-prevention-of-adult-cardiov….
6. European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Committee on Nutrition. Sugar Intake in Infants, Children and Adolescents. Available from: http://www.espghan.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Society_Papers/Sugar_Intak….