Managing child obesity

Current situation

  • Obesity in children has reached epidemic proportions.
  • More than one child in four in England is overweight or obese, according to a recent government report.
  • Obesity levels are higher among children living in the most deprived areas (16.4 per cent) than in children from the least deprived areas.
  • An obese child aged between 10 and 14 years has a 79 per cent chance of being obese as an adult if they have at least one obese parent.

What is the evidence?

  • A review found that lack of breastfeeding, high early energy intake and high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages seem to be the main dietary factors contributing to childhood obesity development (Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2007; 10: 336-41).
  • Television watching has been found to be a main contributory factor to childhood obesity (Obes Rev 2005; 6: 123-32).
  • Overweight children have problems during childhood including low self-esteem, which may perpetuate patterns of inactivity, overeating and obesity into adulthood (BMJ 2005; 330: 1,339-40).
  • Childhood obesity is predictive of bullying in both sexes, according to a prospective cohort study (Arch Dis Child 2006; 91: 121-5). Also, obese boys are more likely to be bullies.
  • A longitudinal study has shown that children who are overweight when as young as two have up to five times greater risk of being overweight at the age of 12 compared with those with normal weights (Pediatrics 2006; 118: e594-601).
  • A study showed that parenting-skills training, combined with promoting a healthy family lifestyle, was a very effective approach to weight management in pre-pubertal children (Pediatrics 2007; 119: 517-25).

Further reading

  • The confusion among local professionals over the best way to tackle childhood obesity has begun to threaten the UK government's target of halting the increase in the condition by 2010 (BMJ 2006; 332: 505).
  • One article has outlined ways that healthcare providers and public health officials can encourage, monitor and advocate for increased physical activity for children and teenagers in order to reduce childhood obesity (Pediatrics 2006; 117: 1,834-42). But many GPs feel that they do not have the time or training to manage obesity in children.
  • Food labelling and advertising of children's food are already improving.

Useful websites - the report 'Health survey for England: obesity among children under 11 years'. - 'Tackling child obesity: first steps'. Details of the public service agreement targets for obesity.

Dr Louise Newson is a GP in the West Midlands and author of 'Hot Topics for MRCGP and General Practitioners' PasTest 2006

Key points

  • Obesity in children is increasing.
  • Television watching is strongly linked with obesity.
  • Childhood obesity is predictive of bullying.


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