Childhood obesity is a complex health issue and is sometimes referred to as a modern-day epidemic. It occurs when a child is well above the normal or healthy weight for his or her age and height. The causes of excess weight gain in young people are similar to those in adults, such as their behavior and genetics. The child's environment also plays an important role as parents are usually those who decide what Children will eat.

The consequences of obesity in children are immediate and future; health risks include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, breathing problems, diabetes, etc.

A recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows a tenfold increase in the number of obese and overweight children and adolescents worldwide in just 40 years.

Why is it on the rise?

Weight gain occurs when people take in more energy (calories) from food and drinks than they use in their day-to-day activities. Obesity is usually the result multiple factors: easy access to cheap, calorie-dense and nutrient-poor foods and drinks, lack of physical activity, and living in obesogenic environments (environments that promote gaining weight and that are not conducive to weight loss), all of which are more than common nowadays. Weight issues can affect children at any age, but, provided they get the right kind of support, children can reduce their weight and maintain it into adulthood if healthy habits are established.

Dramatic change

According to American Heart Association, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is now the number one health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking. WHO claims the number of overweight or obese infants and young children (aged 0 to 5 years) increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 41 million in 2016.

In the WHO African Region alone, the number of overweight or obese children increased from 4 to 9 million over the same period.

A recent study analyzed height and weight measurements of 130 million people since 1975 to determine their Body Mass Index (BMI). The study was a collaboration between World Health Organization and Imperial College London.

Scientists came to the conclusion that the middle-income countries saw the biggest change. This includes countries in Latin America, North Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia.

This came as a surprise to Majid Ezzati, the lead author of the study, as those countries used to have small obesity rates and are now close to having epidemics. The category of higher income countries saw still high but stable childhood obesity rates; the United States tops this category. India, on the other hand, had the highest prevalence of underweight young people across the four decades.

Who is to blame?

It’s a fact that the busy world people live in adds to the statistics from this study. Parents are too busy and often don’t have the time or will to prepare healthy meals.

Children and parents fall under the influence of all those colorful food commercials and therefore end up eating way too much sugar, salt, and other unhealthy foods. It’s also a fact that healthy foods are often much more expensive compared to junk food or snacks.

The problem of childhood obesity needs to be tackled as soon as possible and on a global level. Children need good role models: healthy lifestyle and diet should be promoted, both for kids and parents, and policymaking should aim at solving this problem before it grows out of proportion.