Childhood obesity is a growing national concern. Rates of obesity among Australian children and adolescents have doubled in the past 15 years and roughly 20–25 per cent of our children are currently overweight or obese.1
Research is very clear that childhood obesity increases the risk of a whole host of later-life health problems, including type 2 diabetes, early-onset cardiovascular disease, various metabolic complications and even certain cancers.2, 3 According to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine, today’s youth may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
With this in mind, it is empowering to know there is so much that can be done to influence children’s health for the better. These steps will not only make for a healthier child now but can also improve your children’s future health — a very special gift indeed.
The first step in addressing an issue is realising that there is a problem. Childhood obesity is very complex and addressing it begins with the ability to accurately recognise it. An American study found that 60 per cent of parents of overweight children underestimated their child’s weight. Do these statistics translate to Australasian families?
A similar study does not exist to confirm it, but if you have any concerns or if perhaps other people such as teachers or family members have tried to talk with you about your child’s weight, it is definitely worth looking into further.
What is overweight?
Assessing children’s weight is difficult. Many children will put on some extra weight then have a growing spurt only to put on some weight and grow all over again. This is very different from being an overweight or obese child.
How, as a parent, can you know when your child has crossed the line into overweight? Your doctor, paediatrician or nutritionist specialising in children’s health will be able to tell you objectively if your child is overweight and help you to implement the steps necessary to turn this around.
Body mass index (BMI)
There are BMI charts that are specifically designed for children and take into account factors such as age, weight, height and gender to give you a more accurate idea of whether your child’s weight is healthy. These are designed for children 2–18 years of age and place your child in a percentile where:
- Under the 3rd percentile is considered underweight
- 3rd–85th percentile is considered normal weight
- 85th–95th percentile is considered overweight
- 95th percentile and above is considered obese
Using BMI for children is not without its problems. Authorities have not yet finalised BMI charts for Australian children and, until these are released, it is common practice for American charts to be used. These may not correctly represent ideal weight ranges for healthy children in Australia and New Zealand. Fortunately, BMI charts for children based on Australian statistics are in the pipeline and should be released in the not-too-distant future.1