What Research tells us about the Childhood Obesity Epidemic

The latest global statistics on childhood obesity were recently released, and the numbers are alarming.

  • During the past four decades, the number of obese children and adolescents has grown by a factor of ten, to more than 120 million;
  • Nearly 210 million more children are overweight but not obese;
  • Among the world’s youngest kids — those under five years old — more than 40 million are overweight or obese. More than seven percent of kids under five are now overweight or obese, more than twice as many as in the year 2000;
  • For young Thai children, the problem is even worse — just-released statistics revealed that nearly 11 percent of Thailand’s children under five years old are overweight or obese.

The long-term health consequences are deadly serious: Overweight children are almost twice as likely as to become overweight adults, compared to normal-weight children. That puts them at greater risk in the future for numerous diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes , and certain types of cancer.

Earlier health threats

But as the obesity epidemic spreads further, a growing body of research shows that children are suffering harm earlier, and in greater numbers. According to research findings published since last year:

  • more than 60 percent of obese children who took part in a British study were diagnosed with hypertension, hyperlipidemia , or other cardiovascular risk factors;
  • an increasing number of overweight and obese children are showing early signs of atherosclerosis , the disease marked by the accumulation of artery-clogging plaque that is a major risk factor for stroke and other life-threatening cardiovascular conditions;
  • more children under the age of ten are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, traditionally considered to be an adult disease.

Along with the fresh round of statistics, several recently-completed medical research studies are guiding parents and healthcare professionals toward prevention and treatment strategies that may help combat the epidemic.

The role of sleep : Results of recent studies on weight and sleep show that children who get the most sleep are the least likely to become overweight or obese. The results are similar for boys and girls, and the connection stays consistent across different children’s age groups.

According to sleep guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the recommended total hours of sleep per day, by age group, are:

  • Infants (four to 12 months): 12–16 hours
  • Children one to two years: 11–14 hours
  • Children three to five years: 10–13 hours
  • Children six to 12 years: 9–12 hours
  • Teens 13 to 18 years: 8–10 hours

Routines, rules, and schedules matter : Two recent studies confirm the importance of raising children with consistent routines, rules, and schedules.

  • Researchers in the U.K. followed a group of British children for an eight-year period, beginning at the age of three. By the time the kids reached the age of 11, the researchers determined that the children whose parents established firm routines during infancy for mealtimes and bedtimes, and imposed limits on TV and media “screen time”, were much less likely to be overweight or obese by the time they were 11 years old;
  • In Scandinavia, a community health study now in its fourth year continues to show success in reducing obesity in children by imposing a set of 20 rules and routines regarding food intake, physical activity, and sedentary habits. The 20 rules include restrictions on second helpings of food, rules limiting daily media screen time consumption, and guidelines to ensure children have plenty of time each day for outdoor physical activities.

The Children’s Center

For parents, the Children’s Center at Bumrungrad International Hospital offers comprehensive health services by pediatricians and pediatric specialists in a variety of fields, including overweight and obesity issues. The Children’s Center also provides physical check-ups, vaccinations, and treatment for specific pediatric symptoms. And the Special Needs Children Development Center supports the age-appropriate development and learning to fulfill each child’s full potential.

The center offers a children’s Obesity Package that includes a variety of diagnostic tests and procedures to make sure your child is within the healthy weight range for his or her age and size. For more information, call the Children’s Center at +66 2011 3791, send us your inquiry, or make an appointment online.

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