Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. The problem is global and is steadily affecting many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. Childhood obesity is a condition where excess body fat negatively affects a child’s health or wellbeing. As methods to determine body fat directly are difficult, the diagnosis of obesity is often based on body mass index (BMI). BMI is acceptable for determining obesity for children two years of age and older. The normal range for BMI in children varies with age and sex. The Center for Disease Control defines obesity as a BMI greater than or equal to the 95th percentile.
Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and childhood obesity can lead to life-threatening conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep problems, cancer, and other disorders. Some of the other disorders would include liver disease, early puberty or menarche, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, skin infections, and asthma and other respiratory problems. Overweight and obesity, as well as their related diseases, are largely preventable. Prevention of childhood obesity therefore needs high priority. The fundamental causes behind the rising levels of childhood obesity are a shift in diet towards increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals and other healthy micronutrients, and a trend towards decreased levels of physical activity.
The prevalence has increased at an alarming rate. Globally, in 2010 the number of overweight children under the age of five is estimated to be over 42 million. Close to 35 million of these are living in developing countries. However, obesity rates among children in Eastern Massachusetts has dropped from 1999-2008, a trend which may be occurring in many other parts of the country but obesity prevalence in childhood in lower-income households has not reduced. From 2004 to 2008 rates have dropped significantly among both males and females. The drop in obesity prevalence during the 2004-2008 periods has been much more noticeable among kids who were insured by non-Medicaid health plans, compared to those insured by Medicaid. Among children aged less than 6 years at multisided pediatric practice, obesity prevalence decreased during 2004-2008, which is in line with national data showing no increase in prevalence during this time period. The smaller decrease among Medicaid-insured children may portend widening of socioeconomic disparities in childhood obesity. This is good news as far as childhood obesity is concerned.