Excess belly weight (technically known as central obesity) is not a new issue in America, but it is a newer issue among kids and teens, and it’s not considered a normal part of adolescent development.
Historically, research shows that children and teens lead a more active lifestyle than their parents, and thus, typically have burned excess belly fat much better than their parents. Think back to your childhood. How many kids did you know with a large belly at age 10, 13 or 15? If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, not many I’d wager. This has changed though.
Look at an average group of teens nowadays and you’re more likely to see bellies that protrude over pants, which is extremely alarming. One 2008 report shows that abdominal obesity in adolescent boys was up 65% from 1998, while adolescent girls showed an increase of 70%.
This is very scary because belly fat, or central obesity in childhood, is considered even more dangerous than childhood obesity in general, because it’s an important indicator for risks such as heart disease and diabetes. Visceral fat, the type found in the belly, is metabolized by the liver, turns into cholesterol and circulates in the bloodstream. Then low-density lipoproteins, otherwise known as bad cholesterol, forms plaques and builds up in the arteries, gradually blocking them.
Pediatricians are concerned because children are now developing fat related diseases that are normally found far later in life. The National Institutes of Health notes that children with large amounts of belly fat are more prone to type II diabetes, heart disease and some are experiencing early onset cardiovascular disease.
While a round toddler belly is normal, a flabby stomach on an older child or teen is not at all healthy. In many cases you can eyeball your child or teen’s stomach and see visually if it’s too large. Your child’s stomach should not stick out over her clothing or protrude so that you can see it through her clothes. You shouldn’t see rolls of belly fat on a child or teen.
To be sure, it’s best to have a doctor measure your child, but you can get a general measurement yourself. To correctly measure your child’s waist/hip ratio (pdf), have your child stand and place a tape measure around his or her middle, just above the hipbones. Measure the waist just after your child breathes out. Then measure his or her hips and use a waist to hip ratio calculator to see the results. Note, these calculators are not as accurate as a visit to your child’s doctor.
The best way to combat the health risks presented by central obesity is to make sure your child eats a healthy balanced diet and gets plenty of exercise, or just good old fashioned outdoor activity time.
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