Proven facts about children's health and body weight

This is some of the more technical stuff that scientists have noticed and reported in scientific journals. It reads like a text book, so only read it if you are keen!

  • Complications of overweight and obesity include pain and immobility due to slipped growth plates, heat intolerance, puffing and shortness of breath, fatty liver, inhibition of social skills and interaction, loss of confidence and self-esteem, reduction in physical coordination, risk of diabetes, and heart disease both now and later in life.
  • 30-90% of obese children have sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea means that a child is not getting enough oxygen into their body whilst sleeping. They may get morning headaches, tiredness and lethargy through the day. They may snore or stop breathing whilst asleep. Treatment includes weight loss.
  • The more TV a child watches, the more kilojoules or energy is consumed. The more TV a child watches, the more overweight they are likely to be. More than 5 hours per week is too much.
  • A TV in a child’s bedroom is a strong risk factor for overweight and obesity.
  • Children who sit down to eat with other family members are more likely to eat better diets.
  • If teenagers have more say and freedom with food, then the entire family’s diet becomes less healthy!
  • A parent’s physical activity strongly predicts and influences a child’s activity level. The child of an active mum is twice as likely to be active than a child of an inactive mum. If dad is active, then the child is three times more likely to be active. If both parents are active then the child is six times more likely to be active.
  • The children most likely to be overweight are the youngest in the family, the only child or the child of older parents. And clearly, you can’t change these factors very easily, but you can change the child’s environment and food. What is served on their plate and as snacks between meals, as well as their activity and TV time.
  • Boys with budding breasts (gynaecomastia) need urgent weight loss treatment because the longer the breasts are present, the less likely they are to go away with weight reduction. But do not try and diet your son on your onw because you need to make sure that he gets enough to eat for essential nutrition and growing taller.
  • Waist circumference now may determine a child or adolescent’s risk of cardiovascular disease later in life. If your child's waist is more than 71cm, then the risk is higher. If the waist is less than 61cm, the risk is lower. These measures are not 'fixed in stone' and there are exceptions to the rule, so ask your doctor and dietitian for advice if you ave measured your child's waist and it is a little large.
  • Overweight children do not have a distorted body image, but they do express dissatisfaction with body size. Overweight kids want to be healthy.
  • Obesity ‘runs’ in families, but genetic make-up is only a minor factor in why children become overweight or obese. When there are gene abnormalities, the child is very obese at a very, very young age. This is a rare situation. More often kiddies start to put on weight with each birthday.
  • Parents often can’t judge whether their child is overweight or not. How we see another person’s body weight and size is strongly influenced by our own size and shape. Overweight or obese parents may see their seriously overweight children as merely chubby and fail to act. Lean parents may view the ‘puppy fat’ on their child as overweight and unnecessarily restrict the child’s diet. So, speak openly about your concerns with an unbiased expert - your doctor or dietitian will be able to answer your concerns.
  • Children aged below 7 years may be able to grow into their right weight for height, but there is no guarantee. It depends on how overweight the child is.
  • Children aged above 7 years need active intervention to lose excess body weight, especially if they are obese.
  • Primary school children have better outcomes when the parents attend the dietitian or child's weight loss program alone rather than with the children.