Obesity is a worldwide health crisis, deemed an epidemic that causes a minimum of 2.8 million global deaths. Obesity raises the risk of chronic diseases and mortality and the risk is particularly alarming in obese children. On this World Obesity Day, know ways to promote a healthy lifestyle to tackle obesity in children.

As of 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates reveal that 37 million children under 5 years are overweight, and over 390 million children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 are in the overweight category. Additionally, approximately 160 million children are living with obesity.

A child below the age of five is considered to be overweight when the weight-for-height ratio is greater than 2 standard deviations above the WHO Child Growth Standards median, and obese when the ratio is greater than 3 standard deviations. In children above five, when the Body Mass Index (BMI) for age is greater than 1 standard deviation above the WHO Growth Reference median, they are overweight, and when the deviation is greater than 2, they are considered obese.

What are the causes?

Various factors contribute to obesity in children. It is not solely linked to unhealthy eating or lack of physical exercise. Obesity could be a hereditary condition in some, while in some cases certain underlying medical conditions or medications can cause weight gain.

Health risks of obesity in children:

Obesity can affect a child's physical and mental well-being. It can cause breathing problems, and joint pain and is associated with health conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Overweight children also suffer from poor self-esteem from weight-related bullying and are at risk of developing mental health disorders including, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

Here's how to promote healthy lifestyle:

Watch what they eat- A healthy diet is the first step in achieving a healthy weight. Ensure that the child eats a variety of food that includes fruits, vegetables, high protein, and whole grains while they limit the use of ultra-processed food, saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium.

Encourage physical activity- Children ages 3 to 5 are recommended to stay physically active throughout the day, while children and adolescents aged 6 to 17 should engage in a minimum of 1 hour of physical activity daily. Physical activities could include aerobic exercises such as running, biking, or dancing or activities to strengthen the muscles and bones.

Reduce screen time- Studies show the link between excessive screen time and increased risk of obesity in children. By limiting screen time, children get more time to spend outdoors on physical activities which could help in weight loss.

Promote healthy sleep habits- Adequate sleep is as crucial for maintaining a healthy weight as diet and exercise. Beyond weight management, sufficient sleep contributes to enhanced immunity, increased alertness, and improved mental well-being.

Set a good example- Children learn from what they see around them. Adults can set a good example by making changes in their lifestyles by eating healthy food, engaging in physical activity, and following healthy sleep habits.