March 20, 2020 | by Ioana Popa

Childhood obesity: Why is it important to maintain a healthy weight from an early age?

Your childhood's nutritional status can predict the nutritional status of your adult life. Therefore, when it comes to obesity and its implications, prevention is a key factor.

There are different stages throughout a person's development that have a major impact on body weight and body composition.

• The first stage starts in the prenatal period. The lifestyle, nutrition and food safety the mother practices, all have an important role. Special attention should be paid in matters like: nutritional dense foods intake, avoiding macro- and micronutrient deficiencies, proper food preparation, the exclusion of smoking, drugs and alcoholic beverages, following medical treatments only under medical supervision and maintaining moderate physical activity.

Also, maternal weight gain during pregnancy affects the birth weight of the newborn. Gaining excess kilograms during pregnancy will significantly increase the chances of the newborn weighing more than 4000g, a risk factor for infant obesity.

• The first year of life is also a stage where we need to pay more attention to a balanced development. When we talk about the negative effects that come with being overweight, we refer to the accumulation of excess adipose tissue. This poses a major health risk, increasing the chances of cardiovascular diseases, type II diabetes or possible oncological issues.

Adipose tissue increases in normal development by multiplying the number of fat cells (hyperplasia), their number being established in childhood and adolescence. In a normal development process, the highest percentage of adipose tissue (about 25%) is reached until the age of 6 months, after which the volume of fat cells decreases.

In the case of overweight children, the multiplication of fat cells is at a much faster rate, and the process of decrease in fat cells does not take place, as is the case for the normal developing children.

Throughout life, the amount of adipose tissue changes only by altering the volume of fat cells. In case of their volume increase (hypertrophy), the expansion capacity is up to 1000 times the initial volume.

• Another important stage is the prepubertal period (3-7 years). In this stage, especially in the case of girls, adiposity rebound occurs - a phenomenon characterized by adipose growth as a preparation for the development in puberty. The earlier this phenomenon occurs (below 5.5 years), the higher the risk of overweight and obesity.

Even with a predisposition to overweight and obesity, the major determinant of nutritional status is the environment. An obesogenic environment can cause obesity even in a normal weight person without predisposition. Conversely, in a favorable environment a person who is overweight or obese has significantly more chances to improve their body weight and composition. That is why it is very important that at every stage in life we ​​pay great attention to the factors that have an impact on our weight. The most important factors are: correct management of food impulses (hunger, appetite, satiety), quality and quantity of nutrients according to individual needs, regular physical activity, sleep. Also. we need to monitor the emotional implications that come with food (attitude, reason, relationship with food, reward, cravings etc.) and to limit the exposure to dangerous substances (alcohol, tobacco, drugs).

The role of parents in the proper development, prevention and treatment of overweight and obesity in children is essential at all stages of life.

• Why is it important to maintain a healthy weight from an early age?

Risk minimization is directly proportional to the chance of success in raising a future normal weight adult.

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