Childhood Obesity: Common Risks and Treatment

In light of recent COVID-19 social distancing recommendations, many child care facilities and school systems have temporarily closed their doors. Although necessary and effective, these social distancing precautions have inevitably changed the daily routine for most families and, in some cases, reduced the normal amount of physical activity.

In Kentucky, childhood obesity remains a relevant topic of discussion as more than 20 percent of youth ages 10 to 17 have been diagnosed with the condition, according to the State of Childhood Obesity. Kentucky continues to be among the top states for childhood obesity, ranking third nationally. This ranking should not paralyze us in fear, but rather propel us forward to take a stand against this disease and pledge to prioritize the health of Kentucky’s youth.

Childhood obesity is diagnosed when a child has a body mass index (BMI) of equal to or higher than 95 percent of their peers. We use height and weight values to calculate a BMI score. This numerical value is then assigned a percentile based on where it ranks in relation to BMIs of those of the same age and gender.

The most common cause of childhood obesity is a combination of a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet. In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than 62 percent of youth consumed at least one sugar-sweetened beverage on a given day. Diets that are high in fat and sugar, and contain little nutritional value, can cause children to quickly gain weight.

Furthermore, adolescents who have parents or other immediate family members who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop the condition. In rare cases, the onset of childhood obesity can be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as a hormonal imbalance. Your physician may order a physical exam and blood tests to rule out or confirm this possibility.

Children with obesity have a higher risk of developing several health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, sleep disorders and joint pain. Early diagnosis and treatment for childhood obesity are key to preventing these and other chronic conditions.

Treatment for childhood obesity includes increased exercise and a change in eating habits by substituting high fat and sugar foods with fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. The CDC recommends that children engage in at least one hour of physical activity each day to remain healthy. Some easy ways to incorporate exercise into your new social distancing routine can be to play hopscotch in the driveway or take a family walk around the block.

If you or an immediate family member have a history of obesity, your child could be at a higher risk of developing the disease. To make an appointment with a physician to discuss your child’s risk, call 859.263.1280.


Dr. Clair Palley

Clair Palley, MD

Dr. Palley is with CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Primary Care.