Previously unknown because it was scarce, Childhood Obesity has become a real scourge in recent decades. Its growth is notably linked to lifestyle and eating habits. Already a significant public health problem among adults, childhood obesity is even more complicated and much more dangerous for the future life of children.
Obesity currently affects 10% of children. Preventing this disease from an early age is as essential as it is delicate: any mistake can have severe and lasting consequences. What are the causes of childhood overweight? And what may be the psychological consequences of obesity for your child? And what can parents do to prevent childhood obesity?
What is childhood obesity?
As for adults, childhood obesity is an excess of body fat.
Fat mass refers to all the fat in the body (or adipose tissue), as opposed to lean body mass, which is the weight of muscles, organs, and viscera.
Causes of childhood obesity
Some of the factors that contribute to childhood obesity include:
- poor nutrition, to which the food industry contributes (fast food, prepared meals, higher portions, advertising, etc.);
- lack of physical activity and the number of hours spent in front of the television or computer;
- certain diseases (genetic disorders, endocrine disease or neurological damage);
- lack of sleep.
Psychological effects of childhood obesity
1. Low self-esteem
It is often related to the devalued body image very frequently found among obese. Sometimes feelings of shame or guilt are associated with it. This psychological suffering can also be physical: difficulties in dressing, fear of putting on a bathing suit, also contribute to the discomfort.
Stigmatization of the obese child (mockery, rejection by peers) often adds to this suffering. The psychological child’s quality of life can thus be impaired.
Sometimes, a vicious circle is set up among obese children: stigmatization and mental suffering lead to social isolation with avoidance of peers and activities, which leads to loneliness. In addition to boredom, low self-esteem, and body esteem that can result in childhood obesity. Also, increased suffering and social isolation lead to snacking and physical inactivity, which contributes to increased weight growth.
2. Learning disability
Childhood obesity is not an easy pathology to live with on a daily basis, especially when it is pointed out by others. In fact, the school environment is where all the first ills occur.
Children generally are known to tell the truth. Still unaware of the harshness of some of their words, they do not seek to soften their points of view. Similarly, school is mainly the place where we tend to observe each other. The way we dress, how we behave, how we behave, how we work, nothing is spared. Thus, if one of their classmates is obese, they will not hide to tell him and make him understand that he is not like the others, even though this may involve mockery and insults in bad taste. The problem is that the obese child has difficulty dressing because of his or her size. In addition to hir or her difficulty in standing, behaving, and working.
On the other hand, weight-related prejudices by teachers can lead to lower expectations of obese students, which can affect their academic performance. Children’s chances and opportunities for development may, in turn, be affected, a situation that can ultimately lead to social and health inequalities.
Obese children are at risk of significant anxiety and depressive disorders later in life. When obesity becomes chronic, the inability to control weight gain over a long time can predispose affected children to depression. The longer a kid is overweight, the more likely he or she is to suffer from depression and other mental health problems. Besides, depression at a young age is associated with a higher body mass index (BMI) during adolescence and adulthood. People with depression tend to have poor sleep and less energy or motivation to be physically active. Some children experience depression in combination with carbohydrate cravings. Insulin resistance may underlie this craving, as may the weight gain that occurs in some depressive syndromes.
4. Body image
Dissatisfaction with body image stems from the gap between self-image and the internalization of a received and idealized body image. This dissatisfaction can affect mood and eating practices. Obese girls appear to be more dissatisfied with their body image and more likely to have eating disorders, like bulimia nervosa and binge eating, than their male counterparts.
5. Behavioral disorders
The effects of weight prejudices and the stigma of obesity can be particularly severe when it comes to children. Studies indicate that school-aged children with obesity are 63% more likely to be harassed. Intimidation or bullying of children and youth by peers, family, and friends because of their weight can lead to feelings of shame, depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, and even suicide.
6. In the family environment
If the child is the only one in the family that is obese, he or she may be stigmatized by his or her siblings. And maybe stigmatized even by his or her parents as well. They may be blamed for their excessive appetite for food. From there, he will then be accused of being solely responsible for his obesity, without even trying to find the origin of this particular relationship with food. Once again, the child will not be able to bear this tough situation. Alone facing his obesity, he will then once again stand aside.
7. In the professional environment
Being likely to remain obese in adulthood, the child is even less likely to find a job, especially if it is a job involving direct contact with customers.
The constant stigma attached to obesity is likely to act as a brake in the professional field, whether or not it concerns childhood obesity. A person with a large body will be systematically associated with a passive and lazy person whose physique is no less unattractive to the clients.
However, obesity is also and above all, a physical characteristic that can cause various more or less serious medical complications.
Should a child be put on a diet?
It is strongly discouraged to put a child on a diet, even if he or she is overweight or obese. Remember that a child is still growing and that too severe food restrictions could jeopardize his or her development and health.
Depriving a child of food can also have consequences on the relationship he develops with his parents and with food, on his self-esteem, on the development of his autonomy, etc. A child who is deprived develops an exaggerated preoccupation with food. He may begin to hide to eat, or he may tend to eat a lot at every opportunity.
However, action must be taken to bring the situation under control as quickly as possible. It is crucial to stabilize the child’s weight by adopting a healthy lifestyle and eating behaviors that will allow for age-appropriate growth and development.
What can parents do to prevent childhood obesity?
Parents play a crucial role in promoting healthy, active living, and managing childhood obesity. The following parenting responsibilities are particularly important: leading by example, setting limits, purchasing healthy foods for family consumption, maintaining healthy family habits (eating and exercising together), and managing time and money effectively.
Children who do not have routines, habits, limits, and supervision in the home are more vulnerable to childhood obesity. There is a higher rate of obesity among kids who do not have siblings for reasons that are still unclear.
In theory, the only child might eat more to avoid boredom or loneliness. Plus, parents might treat their only child more like an adult, serving them larger portions of food or sharing too much “screen time” with them instead of physical activity. Children are sometimes pressured by their parents to excel in a particular sport, which can result in an aversion to sport and exercise. They may become more sedentary due to exhaustion or disillusionment and give up all forms of physical activity.
How to help your kid develop good eating habits?
Here are some attitudes to adopt or avoid to help your child develop good eating habits and a good relationship with food:
- Act as a positive role model, both in terms of eating and physical activity. Remember that your child is imitating you.
- Avoid using food to reward or console your child.
- Help your child recognize when he or she is hungry, and when he or she is no longer hungry by asking how he or she is feeling. Stop eating yourself when you are no longer hungry instead of always finishing your plate. This will help your child avoid overeating. Remember that your child is the only one who knows whether or not he is still hungry and therefore how much food he should eat.
- Encourage your child to take their time to eat and set an example. This will help your kid to recognize hunger and satiety signals from his or her body.
- Avoid forbidding certain foods, especially if people around your child are eating them. This will make them more attractive to him.
- Don’t force him to finish his plate if he says he is no longer hungry. Serve your child age-appropriate portions, asking first if he is hungry, how hungry he is, or how much he wants on his plate.
- Don’t prepare special meals for your child to make him eat healthier, as this isolates him by making him feel that he has a problem. Most of the time, the whole family needs to adopt good eating habits.
Childhood obesity can affect children’s health for the rest of their lives, as it is associated with obesity in adulthood and the many health problems that come with it. Understanding the causes and consequences of this issue is essential to take preventive action.
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