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Obesity has been labeled as a disease by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is bordering on an epidemic (more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012). According to the CDC website, overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. Obesity and overweight are most often the result of a “caloric imbalance.” This means that more calories are consumed than burned, and it can be affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.
Obese youth tend to have more risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a sample of youth from 5 to 17 years old, 70% of obese youth showed at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The likelihood of having prediabetes is much higher for obese adolescents. Prediabetes is a condition where elevated levels of blood glucose indicate high risk for development of diabetes. Childhood and adolescent obesity can lead to bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems like stigmatization or poor self-esteem.
Studies have also shown that children as young as two years old who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults. This can lead to a myriad of health problems like heart problems, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, osteoarthritis, etc. The risk of cancer is increased by being overweight or obese. These risks increase for types of cancers like cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium (inner lining of the uterus), esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate. It also increases the risk of multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Obesity prevention is fairly straightforward. Healthy lifestyles and habits are the best way to prevent obesity. Healthy eating and physical activity helps prevent obesity and several other health problems. These habits are best formed in the home, but schools also play a critical role in the health of the child. Schools provide education that promotes healthy eating, physical activity, and opportunities to participate in activities like sports and physical education classes.
Physical activity plays a key role in overall health and can help prevent, as well as treat, obesity. Providing fun and enjoyable ways to be active is one of the best ways to encourage physical activity and help children from becoming overweight or obese.