childhood obesity

How to tell if your child is at risk for obesity

If you are wondering if your child is at risk for obesity, consider these factors:

One of the most important things you and your family can do to stay healthy is to make a commitment to staying lean. When we say “lean,” we don’t mean thin or skinny. By lean we mean having the right amount of body fat for your body type. Some people must make a greater effort than others to stay lean, but it’s worth it. There are several factors that contribute to your child’s risk for obesity.

Risky family genes

Is your family tree weighted down with obese persons? Or do you come from a long line of lean relatives? While eating habits are more important than genes (you can change habits!), heredity does play an important part in determining your body type and your tendency to store fat, both of which are good indicators of whether or not a child is at risk for obesity. If both parents are overfat, their children have an 80% chance of becoming overfat themselves. If one parent is overfat, the children have a 40% chance. If neither parent is overfat, the child has only a 7% chance of being overfat. The passing down of eating patterns from parent to child explains part of this tendency for weight problems to run in families, but not all of it.

Risky body types.

People come in all sizes and shapes. What a boring world it would be if we didn’t. Yet some of these body types are more likely to carry excess weight than others. Some body types tend to be calorie burners and others calorie storers. Those who burn calories more easily stay lean with less effort than those who tend to store calories. Body types are often compared to fruit. Read more about those body types here.

Not all children and adults fit neatly into the four fruit categories, but you can use them to determine general tendencies. For example, if both of your family trees are full of bananas, yet your eight year-old healthy eater is pleasingly plump, you probably don’t need to worry. Many children go through a “chunky” stage from seven to ten years of age. They are storing up energy for the growth spurts of the preteen and teenage years, when they eventually “lean out.”

Risky family eating habits.

Which aisles do you frequent in the supermarket? Do you spend your shopping time selecting produce, or do you linger in the aisles with all the prepackages crackers and cookies? Do you plan to have healthy family meals at home, or does the dinner hour find you in the drive-up land at a fast-food outlet? Do a lot of the foods in your pantry or refrigerator have one or more of the three “bad words” (“high-fructose corn syrup,” hydrogenated,” or a color additive, like red #40) on the label? Is health and nutrition a high or a low priority in your family? Finally, do the parents in your family eat the way you want your kids to eat? Monkey see, monkey do. Little monkeys learn their eating habits from the big monkeys.

Your child’s temperament.

Lively active children burn more calories than kids who prefer to sit and play video games. Some children are naturally wiggly. Others like to sit still. Obviously, a child who prefers to read books and do art projects will burn fewer calories than a child who spends hours chasing a soccer ball or sibling around the backyard. Parents may have to get quieter children involved in activities that encourage them to be more active.

Doctor’s evaluation.

If you’re concerned that your child is overfat or at risk for becoming so, talk to your doctor. The doctor will assess your child’s height and weight and use these numbers to determine his or her BMI. The doctor may also take note of your child’s waist circumference. Doctors often do a “pinch test,” that is, we determine how much extra fat there is around a child’s middle by seeing how much we can gently grab. Your doctor will also consider age, stage of development, family history, and diet and activity level as all three of you decide together what to do about your child’s weight.