How can you tell if a child is overweight (or if it is just “baby fat”)?
A child’s growth and development can be monitored using the growth charts available in the health booklet issued at birth, or Singapore specific growth charts available online. Regular height and weight measurements are taken during routine health and development screening visits and plotted on these charts.
The easiest measure of “overweightness” is to look at the Body Mass Index (BMI). This is the weight of the child (in kilograms) divided by the square of the height (in metres). Many countries have adopted age-and-sex-specific BMI charts for their paediatric populations, and like the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have defined:
- A child as being overweight when their BMI is between the 85-95 percentile
- A child is obese when their BMI is higher than the 95th percentile for their age and sex
What causes obesity?
Some factors in a child’s lifestyle can contribute to a child consuming more calories than they burn, resulting in them becoming overweight.
- Dietary choices: high caloric, nutrient-poor foods (like fast food, sweetened beverages, bubble tea, fruit juices), larger portion sizes, excessive intake of fats
- Sedentary lifestyle – with more video games, computer games, videos and television
- Lack of physical activity – children these days no longer walk to school and less children are doing household chores.
- Environmental/family factors such as parental food choices
Less commonly, obesity can also be due to medical conditions (genetic or endocrine problems) or medications.
What are the health consequences of childhood obesity?
Some consequences of childhood obesity can include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure), dyslipidaemia (abnormal levels of lipids in the blood)
- Impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
- Obstructive sleep apnoea
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, gallstones
- Joint pains and musculoskeletal problems
- Kidney problems
- Menstrual irregularities
- Mental health/psychological issues – poor self-esteem, bullying, anxiety, depression
What is a balanced diet and how can parents help their children achieve it?
A balanced diet for children is one that includes food from all the food groups:
- Rice and alternatives
- Meat and others
The Health Promotion Board’s My Healthy Plate can be used as a guide when planning your child’s meals and snacks. No one food can provide all the nutrients your child needs, so encourage your child to consume a variety of food.
Choose healthier oils and remember that food high in sugar and salt should be limited.
Get your child to adopt healthy eating habits from a young age, and he/she will be more likely to continue having a preference for them as an adult. Helping your child make better food choices now will have a big impact on his health and quality of life in the future.
What are some common bad eating habits that children/families have?
Skipping meals, especially breakfast, leads to overeating at the next meal. Due to hunger later on, kids’ food choices would likely be convenience foods. e.g. fast food or titbits which tend to be high in fat, salt, sugar; or all three.
There are also some children who dislike drinking water, or ‘forget’ to drink water while at school. This may lead to dehydration and other medical problems affecting the kidney; or constipation. Children may mistake thirst for hunger, and end up eating more for satiety. Such habits may eventually lead to overweight or obesity.
If your child is putting on weight fast, or is overweight/obese, do consult your doctor/dietitian to discuss how best to address this growing problem.
Dr Andrea Yeo
SBCC Baby & Child (Rivervale)
Ms Suzanne Khor
SBCC Baby & Child Clinic (Asthma, Lung, Sleep, Allergy & Paediatric Centre)
Nobel Gastroenterology Centre (Gleneagles Medical Centre)
Nobel Gastroenterology Centre (Mount Elizabeth Novena)
Suzanne Khor has been practising as a clinical dietician for the past 18 years. She obtained her postgraduate degree (Masters of Health Science Education) from the University of Sydney Australia. Her special interests are nutrition in feeding difficulties, diet therapy for neurological disorders, eating disorders and weight management.