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Difference Between Childhood Obesity and Overweight

Childhood obesity and overweight are often used synonymously, but there is a difference between the two conditions. They are both the result of a disturbed energy balance – the ratio between the consumed and burned calories. The main difference between the two conditions is the degree of fat accumulation. 

The differentiation between obesity and overweight is made using the body mass index (BMI = weight /height2 (kg/m2). It is not a perfect indicator of body fat but shows a good correlation with direct measurements of body fat and different metabolic diseases. It has to be applied with caution as it can be misleading in some cases. 

The weight categories for children are determined based on the BMI percentiles for gender, age, and height (percentile is one of the 100 equal groups into which a population can be divided according to the values of a particular variable). 

The categories used to describe the weight for children using BMI are:

  • Underweight children: BMI < 5th percentile;
  • Children with normal weight: 5th percentile < BMI < 85th percentile;
  • Overweight children: 85th percentile < BMI < 95th percentile;
  • Obese children: BMI > 95th percentile.

Childhood obesity and overweight cannot be blamed on a single factor. Usually, several factors work in combination, increasing the risk. These factors include:

  • Eating: excessive consumption of high-calorie foods such as snacks, fried foods, pasta, chocolate, chips, soft drinks, etc. lead to gaining weight. 
  • Low physical activity: children who do not play on the street and do not practice sports are more likely to gain extra weight because they do not utilize the consumed calories. 
  • Genetic/family factors: children from families with overweight/obese members are more likely to be overweighed/obese. The cause may be genetic, but also a family environment with a traditional unbalanced eating and low physical activity.
  • Psychological factors: some children overeat to make it easier to overcome problems – emotional isolation, stress, boredom, failure to complete school responsibilities, etc. 

If the parents consider that their child’s weight is obese or overweight, they should consult a pediatrician, endocrinologist or nutritionist. The diagnosis is based on height and weight measurement, calculation of the BMI and its comparison with the relevant standards and growth curves. In order to make a proper weight assessment, it is necessary to assess the muscle mass and the degree of physical development, therefore consultation with a doctor is necessary before starting any weight loss measures. 

Obese and overweight children can develop serious problems such as diabetes and heart disease, and often these diseases are transmitted to adulthood. These children are at higher risk for the following health problems:

  • Diabetes type 2;
  • Metabolic syndrome;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Asthma and other respiratory problems;
  • Sleep disorders;
  • Liver diseases;
  • Early puberty;
  • Eating disorders.

In addition to the health risks, social and emotional problems can also occur, including:

  • Low self-esteem and tendency to aggressive behavior;
  • Learning problems;
  • Lower social skills; 
  • Depression, etc.

The treatment of childhood obesity/overweight is determined by the child’s age and the presence of comorbidities. Treatment usually includes changes in diet and physical activity. 

What is Childhood Obesity?

Childhood obesity is a chronic pathological condition in children, characterized by the accumulation of an excessive amount of fat in the child’s body due to an increase in the number and/or size of fat cells. 

A child with a BMI above the 95th percentile for gender, age, and height is considered to be obese. Worldwide, 30-45 million children are obese.

The excess body fat in obese children is accumulated to an extent that it may have a negative effect on health. 

What is Childhood Overweight?

Childhood overweight is a condition in children, characterized by having more body fat than is optimally healthy. This is the state between normal weight and childhood obesity. 

A child with a BMI between the 85th and the 95th percentiles for gender, age, and height is considered to be overweight. Worldwide 155 million children are overweight. 

The likelihood of weight-related health problems increases above the healthy weight range (above the 85th percentile for gender, age, and height), but there is no definite point at which the “low risk” becomes “high risk” – this is a gradual increase in risk due to weight gain. For overweight children, the health risk is lower than for obese ones but it exists.

Difference Between Childhood Obesity and Overweight

Definition 

Childhood obesity: Childhood obesity is a chronic pathological condition in children, characterized by the accumulation of an excessive amount of fat in the child’s body due to an increase in the number and/or size of fat cells. 

Childhood overweight:Childhood overweight is a condition in children, characterized by having more body fat than is optimally healthy. This is the state between normal weight and childhood obesity.  

BMI

Childhood obesity: A child with a BMI above the 95th percentile for gender, age, and height is considered obese. 

Childhood overweight: A child with a BMI between the 85th and the 95th percentiles for gender, age, and height is considered overweight.

Number of the affected children

Childhood obesity: Worldwide, 30-45 million children are obese.

Childhood overweight: Worldwide 155 million children are overweight. 

Health impacts 

Childhood obesity: The excess body fat in obese children is accumulated to an extent that it may have negative effects on health. 

Childhood overweight: The health risk is lower for overweight children but it exists.

Childhood Obesity Vs. Overweight

Summary: 

  • Childhood obesity is a chronic pathological condition in children, characterized by the accumulation of an excessive amount of fat in the child’s body due to an increase in the number and/or size of fat cells. 
  • Childhood overweight is a condition in children, characterized by having more body fat than is optimally healthy. This is the state between normal weight and childhood obesity.  
  • Childhood obesity and overweight are both the result of a disturbed energy balance. The main difference between the two conditions is the degree of fat accumulation. 
  • The two conditions can be a result of unhealthy eating habits, low physical activity, genetic/family factors, psychological factors.
  • The differentiation between obesity and overweight is made using the body mass index (BMI). 
  • A child with a BMI above the 95th percentile for gender, age, and height is considered obese, a child with a BMI between the 85th and the 95th percentiles for gender, age, and height is considered overweight.
  • Worldwide, 30-45 million children are obese and 155 million children are overweight. 
  • The excess body fat in obese children is accumulated to an extent that it may have negative effects on health. The health risk is lower for overweight children. 

Dr. Mariam Bozhilova Forest Research Institute, BAS
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References :


[0]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Variation_in_body_fat_12577.JPG

[1]Image credit: https://pixabay.com/de/photos/dick-%C3%BCbergewicht-adipositas-gewicht-373064/

[2]Abate, C. Overweight Child: How To Help Obese Children Lose Weight Fast And Become Healthy, Energetic, Confident, Successful And Happy. 2016. E-book.

[3]Edmunds, L., Poskitt, E. Management of Childhood Obesity, 1st Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2008. Print.

[4]Hills, A. (Ed.). Children, Obesity And Exercise: Prevention, Treatment and Management of Childhood and Adolescent Obesity. London: Routledge. 2007. Print.

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