Obesity is the state of being seriously overweight - to a degree that affects your health.
Obesity in childhood is linked to many health complications and tends to indicate the child will be obese as an adult. It is very concerning as childhood obesity is increasing.
Obesity - causes and risk factors
Obesity is caused by two simple factors - an unhealthy diet (typically too rich in sugar and fats and not enough fibre and carbohydrate) and not doing enough exercise to burn off the calories consumed.
Occasionally, there are other factors, for example in a rare genetic condition called Prader-Willi syndrome there may be problems with controlling hunger.
The effects of obesity include problems with the joints and bones (such as slipped femoral epiphysis and bow legs), a condition called benign intracranial hypertension that produces headaches and affects vision, hypoventilation (leading to drowsiness during the day, snoring and even heart failure), gall bladder disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, high blood pressure andhigh levels of blood fats.
Obesity increases the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes which is normally a disease seen in later life in adults. However, increasingly children in their teens are presenting with type 2 diabetes as a consequence of being obese. There are also marked psychological effects leading to low self-esteem.
In the UK, around 27 per cent of children are now overweight and research suggests the main problem is a continual reduction in the amount of exercise children take. Many overweight children have overweight parents - it's often a matter of family lifestyles.
A child's body mass index (BMI) is calculated using the same method as for adults - weight in kilograms divided by height in metres squared - but adult BMI figures must not be used to determine whether a child is overweight or obese. Specific age-adjusted charts are needed.
Obesity - treatment and prevention
If you're worried your child is overweight, talk to your doctor and ask for help from a dietician. Avoid starting your child on an aggressive diet. Instead, make long-term changes to healthy eating for all the family, and get your child involved in sport or exercise.
Aim to increase your child's intake of fresh fruit and vegetables (they should be having at least five portions a day) and reduce fat intake. Try to find healthy snacks they like, and sit down together at least once a day for a balanced meal.
Talk to teachers at their school about what can be done there.
And, because being overweight is often a family problem, measure the BMI of everyone in the family, and start making changes together for a healthy family lifestyle.