Obesity describes being seriously overweight, to a degree that has important implications for health.
Obesity in childhood is particularly important for many reasons - it predicts whether a child will be obese in adult life and is linked to childhood complications.
What effects does it have?
These include problems with the joints and bones (such as slipped femoral epiphysis, bow legs), a condition called benign intracranial hypertension (with headaches and eye changes), hypoventilation (leading to drowsiness and poor performance during the day, snoring, heart failure), gall bladder disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats, and diabetes. There are also marked psychological effects leading to low self-esteem.
Symptoms of obesity range from tiredness, backache, headaches, joint problems and poor sleep to problems at school, emotional difficulties and psychological problems.
What causes it?
Obesity is caused by two simple factors - an unhealthy diet (typically too rich in sugar and fats) and not taking enough exercise. Occasionally there are other factors, for example in a rare genetic condition called Prader-Willi syndrome there may be problems with controlling hunger. Hypothyroidism and Cushing's syndrome can also cause obesity.
Who is affected?
More and more children in the UK are becoming obese - it's been described as a modern epidemic. About 20 per cent of children are now overweight and 2.5 per cent are severely overweight or obese. Research suggests that 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.
How is it diagnosed and treated?
To check whether your child is obese calculate their body mass index (BMI). You can use this calculator specifically for children on the Harlow Health website.
Or you can use an adult body mass index (BMI) calculator by squaring their height (in metres) and then dividing their weight (in kg) by this figure. Plot the result (BMI) onto a BMI centile chart. You'll find more information on this page of the US Department of Health and Human Services website.
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 intake of fresh fruit and vegetables (they should be having 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 school about what can be done there.
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.