Keeping an eye on child obesity - Albuquerque Journal

Keeping an eye on child obesity

In the last column we discussed what is BMI and how is it calculated. We also discussed that the ranges are constant in adults, but they change in childhood and hence we need to refer to graphs (CDC graphs are the most often used).

We also talked about that in children, overweight is referred to as a BMI more than 85th percentile for that age, and obesity more than 95th percentile for that age.

The key fact is that obesity rates are rising all over the world and obesity affects life span and importantly quality of life. The seeds for obesity are sown early in life. This means that an obese toddler is more likely to be an obese child, an obese adolescent and an obese adult.

Unfortunately, the recent pandemic has not helped. The rate of rise of weight just before the Covid pandemic and 6 months into the pandemic have shown a remarkable and worrying trend in the increase in weight over and above the expected weight gain.

This means that we will suddenly see a jump in overweight and obesity rates. It has been estimated that about 50% of children will be obese by the age of 35 years.

In 1988, 23% of the American population was obese; this has increased to 35% now with projections to increase further. Obesity has more than doubled in children and more than four times in adolescents. Overweight rates are double the obesity rates. An average woman today weights about the same as an average man in 1960.

The concern is that some experts feel that for the first time in the history of mankind, our children may live shorter lives on average than their parents due to the scourge of obesity.

Hence your pediatrician tried to warn you about a possible unhealthy diet and lack of exercise resulting in a rapid increase in the BMI of your child.

Some studies show that a typical member of the population walks about one-third of a mile daily, while 20% manage some moderate level of exercise. The concept of walking 10,000 steps daily, though not entrenched in science, is approximately five miles daily which translates to 150 minutes of mild to moderate aerobic exercise a week.

Children are expected to exercise 60 minutes a day. These are again recommendations from CDC.

Some experts have suggested that – sitting is the new smoking. So, get up and move!

Ultimately, the aim is to maintain BMI in the normal range and preferably in the same percentile band. Check BMI twice a year. Ask your pediatrician or check yourself on various BMI calculators available, plot it on a graph, avoid junk food and exercise. One big source of calories is sugar sweetened beverages and processed or ultra-processed foods. More about ‘JUNCS’ in the next edition.

Until then, watch what you and your children eat and drink – after all you are their role model. And start exercising.

I forgot to mention, whole milk is OK to use until two years of age, after which move to low fat milk (without added sugar) unless specifically told so not to by your child’s health care provider.

Pankaj Vohra is a Pediatric Gastroenterologist at UNM. Please send your questions to


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