The age at which children shed their “baby fat” varies greatly. However, in a culture that is often quick to label, many children are being diagnosed with childhood obesity. September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, a time when doctors, advocates and parents take measures to raise awareness of the physical health risks associated with obesity while ensuring that children’s mental health does not get put on the backburner. Health problems associated with obesity can be serious and life-threatening, but specialists warn that prematurely labeling children with the disease during developmental years can lead to stigmatization and an unhealthy relationship with food.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of childhood obesity diagnosed in the United States has more than doubled in the past three decades. The causes of childhood obesity are believed to be a combination of behavioral and genetic factors. Children truly struggling with obesity are at greater risk for high cholesterol, hypertension, bone and joint issues, sleep apnea and pre-diabetes than the general population. Mental health issues can also arise as a result of the disease, as the stigma attached to childhood obesity can result in bullying, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and social isolation.
A large part of the concern surrounding childhood obesity is the fear that these health problems will follow children into adulthood. The CDC reports, “One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults.” As early childhood is a time when children are still developing physically and mentally, specialists note the potential dangers in diagnosing children in this age group with childhood obesity. The criterion for diagnosis relies on body mass index (BMI), taking “caloric imbalance” into consideration. Since babies are naturally “chubby,” potentially stigmatizing and restricting the caloric intake of a toddler could be argued as ethically questionable.
In a 2010 Presidential Proclamation, President Barack Obama stated, “During National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, I urge all Americans to take action to meet our national goal of solving the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.” This awareness month brings forth the opportunity to examine the ways in which society can help children develop healthy relationships with food and reduce the stigma attached to childhood obesity.
If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety, depression or any other mental health issues relating to childhood obesity, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Childhood obesity part 2: Flaws in using the BMI to diagnose obesity
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer