It goes without saying that a healthy weight is a sign of good health in children. However, these days, owing to unhealthy eating habits, lack of sufficient physical activity and lack of awareness, childhood obesity is on the rise. Genetic factors, hormonal imbalances and even socio-cultural reasons might be responsible for obesity in kids. If you are overwhelmed with what to do and which reasoning to trust, it’s important to know the myths from the facts. It’s time to debunk the myths about children’s weight, so that parents can monitor and ensure their growth and development in a healthy manner.

Myth 1: Childhood obesity is due to genetic factors

Genes do play a role in weight gain or obesity, but it is a very tiny part of the equation. A few kids might be more susceptible to weight gain due to genes, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By following a balanced and nutritious diet and by staying active or participating in sports, kids can maintain a healthy weight.

Myth 2: Overweight kids have baby fat. As they grow, the excess weight will disappear.

This is one of those children’s weight myths that are common and harmful. Obesity in childhood does not always result in adulthood obesity, but the risk increases for sure. Many pre-school or elementary school kids, who are obese or overweight, remain so, as they enter their teenage years. Most of these kids fail to overcome this issue as they grow up.

Myth 3: Obese or overweight kids need to follow a proper diet for weight loss.

Unless advised by a physician, childhood obesity should not be treated with special diets. The focus should be on slowing down the weight gain and letting the child grow as per his or her ideal body weight. The child needs to take healthy and balanced meals and engage in regular physical activity. Consumption of junk foods that are high in saturated fats, sugars and salt, must be controlled.

Myth 4: Obesity is a hormonal issue

Though hormones can cause weight gain, they are rarely the reason for childhood obesity. A rare and acute condition due to which hormonal imbalance can occur is Cushing syndrome. This disease arrests vertical growth, causes high blood pressure, and increases salivary cortisol levels at 11 pm.

One of the causes for weight gain might be hypothyroidism too, but the associated weight gain is in the range of 5 to 10 kg (at a rapid rate). Kids usually suffer from subclinical hypothyroidism with a slight increase in thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which doesn’t usually lead to overt hypothyroidism.

Note that childhood obesity can result in insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. It is more like a vicious cycle where childhood obesity and insulin resistance are interconnected.

Myth 5: Weight gain and obesity are mainly caused by eating fast food, skipping breakfast, and drinking sugary beverages.

Childhood obesity is mainly caused by unhealthy eating patterns or the kind of nutrition your child gets. There are fewer chances of kids being overweight or obese if they eat balanced meals, three or more small snacks, inclusive of breakfast, throughout the day.

When a large portion size of any packaged food or junk food is consumed, this can cause obesity. Also, excess consumption of sugary drinks can lead to excess gain in weight. However, consuming packaged foods as part of a balanced diet should not lead to obesity, if you make wise buying choices and read food labels properly.

Myth 6: All fats are unhealthy and result in overweight or obese kids.

All fats do not contribute to weight gain or obesity. Rather, healthy fats are necessary to carry out normal bodily functions and keep the heart functioning smoothly. Rather than removing fats entirely from the diet, replace or substitute unhealthy fats with healthy ones. Add healthy fats to your child’s meals, such as unsaturated fats, in the form of fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. You can serve ghee, low-fat dairy, and eggs for instance. Use olive oil, coconut oil or sesame (til) oil for cooking. Instead of doughnuts or pastries, opt for milk or cheese, and instead of fried chicken, opt for grilled chicken or fish. Restrict the consumption of trans-fats, packaged foods, junk foods, fried foods and easy-to-eat foods.

Myth 7: Eliminate sweets from the child's diet. They are the main culprit behind childhood obesity.

Banning sweets completely from a child's diet is neither fair nor easy, as it boosts their cravings. Instead, follow a middle path, by substituting cookies, candies, pastries and other bakery products, with desserts that are fruit-based or made at home with milk or yoghurt. Homemade kheer, payasam, sooji halwa or custard that contains little sugar or jaggery is healthier. You can also use dry fruits or fresh fruits to make these naturally sweet. Smoothies made with fresh or dry fruits are also a good idea.