To suggest the role of the practicing physician in examining and treating childhood obesity. How should obesity be determined at clinical examination? Is there an obesity epidemic? What is the likely influence of obesity upon current and future health? What are the causes of obesity, and what does this imply for prevention and treatment?
Relevant articles in Medline and personal files.
The 80th and 95th percentiles of body mass index and skinfold readings provide the most commonly accepted indices of overweight and obesity in the child. Over the last 20 years, the proportions of overweight and obese children have increased in both indigenous populations and most developed societies. Current methods of assessing physical activity and diet during childhood lack the precision to establish the primary cause of the obesity epidemic, but correlational analysis shows a close relationship between body fat content and a decline in daily energy expenditures. Immediate consequences of childhood obesity include an increased prevalence of atherosclerotic plaques, hypertension, and an adverse lipid profile, with a poor self-image that limits participation in physical activity. Tracking is such that many obese children become obese adults, and in consequence, the long-term risks of cardiovascular and all-cause deaths are increased. The prevention of obesity is easier than its cure. A combination of increased lifestyle activities, less sedentary behavior, and dietary modification seems the most effective approach. This should be supported by the use of behavioral modification techniques and changes in the urban environment that encourage an active lifestyle.
The pediatric physician can contribute to the control of obesity by monitoring body mass index and skinfold thicknesses in all patients. Children above the 50th percentile of body fat need dietary modification and a greater amount of moderate physical activity. Physicians should also advocate quality daily physical education and an environment that encourages adoption of an active lifestyle.