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Physiotherapy and Childhood Obesity

Published on Oct 26, 2022 and last reviewed on Dec 13, 2022   -  5 min read


Childhood obesity is a global problem. This article explains how physiotherapists help treat obesity in children by assessing and personalized care.

What Is Childhood Obesity?

Obesity in children has increased in the last few decades. Obesity in children is measured by BMI, and it is linked to a variety of physical and psychological issues, as well as a lower quality of life. It has been increasingly concerning in recent years because diseases that affect adult populations, like cardiorespiratory diseases, also impact children, as well as the health of adults who were obese as children.

Why Is There a Global Rise in Childhood Obesity?

Global increases in childhood overweight and obesity are attributable to several factors.

  • There has been a worldwide change in diet toward more energy-dense foods high in fat and sugar but low in vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial micronutrients.

  • Due to the growing sedentary nature of many forms of relaxation time, changing modes of transportation, and increased urbanization, there is also a tendency toward lower physical activity levels.

Because the problem is societal, a population-based multisectoral, multidisciplinary, and culturally relevant strategy is required. Children and adolescents, unlike most adults, have no control over their living environment or the food they eat. They also have a limited understanding of the long-term effects of their actions. As a result, they demand special care in the struggle against the obesity epidemic.

What Are the Complications of Childhood Obesity?

Slightly overweight children have a higher chance of becoming obese adults. Many of the primary causes of adult mortality, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, stroke, chronic kidney and liver disease, and many types of cancer, are more likely among obese individuals.

Obesity is linked to several co-occurring conditions, both short- and long-term. Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, early puberty, menstrual irregularities, polycystic ovarian syndrome, steatohepatitis, sleep apnea, asthma, benign intracranial hypertension, musculoskeletal issues, and psychological problems are all conditions linked to obesity. If childhood obesity is not appropriately managed, it can lead to additional comorbidities such as a higher risk of health difficulties in adulthood. As a result, early interventions for preventing and treating obesity in children are critical in preventing chronic disease, morbidity, and mortality later in life.

How Can Childhood Obesity Be Managed?

The concept of energy balance is extensively used in childhood obesity therapies. The term energy balance refers to the difference between the amount of energy consumed and energy output.

According to this view, excess adiposity occurs when calorie intake exceeds energy expenditure. Currently, there are two primary approaches to obesity management: decreasing energy intake through nutritional education and healthy eating, increasing energy expenditure through physical exercise, or a mix of the two.

Age, genetics, psychological, gender, and environmental factors such as school regulations, parents' work-related responsibilities, and lifestyle can influence childhood obesity. A multicomponent behavioral intervention carried out by a multidisciplinary team is regarded as a best practice due to the complexity of obesity.

As their lifestyles change, children spend less time doing physical activity during the day. As a result, childhood obesity is rising, becoming one of the most common chronic disorders among children. Furthermore, treating childhood obesity is challenging, and non-compliance with obesity therapy is the most common issue.

Nutritional management increases daily physical activity, and psychological support will help with therapy adaptation. Diet alone reduces fat and nonfat body mass significantly. On the other hand, adding exercise to a weight-reduction program enhances weight loss by retaining nonfat body mass. Even though exercises have little effect on weight loss, it does have a considerable impact on mortality.

Furthermore, regular physical activity is beneficial. However, because changes in the child's body during growth affect motor power and performance, it is important to tailor the workout to the child's unique traits, age, and gender. Children find short-term, frequent activities to be more interesting and approachable, and they are more likely to comply with treatment. To maximize behavioral effectiveness and compliance, treatment must be started as soon as possible.

How Is Childhood Obesity Treated?

Obese patients should have their training regimens reviewed by a physician to rule out any exercise contraindications. Exercise tolerance should be assessed in those with cardiovascular disease using the exercise test. Assistance for fat patients necessitates the collaboration of an interdisciplinary team of physicians, dietitians, psychologists, and physiotherapists, all of whom should design a comprehensive training program on current conditions.

The goal of integrating physical activity into a weight-loss program is to raise energy expenditure and burn fat, which is best accomplished through continuous aerobic exercise that targets big muscle groups. It is important to encourage children to engage in regular physical activity since the habits formed throughout infancy are carried over into adulthood, resulting in the avoidance of numerous ailments such as cardiorespiratory disease.

Obese children and adolescents are less likely to engage in physical activity. Individual play, group games, sports, physical work, leisure, physical education, or organized exercise are all examples of physical activity for children and young people as part of the family, school, and community activities.

In order to enhance endurance and reduce body fat in obese youngsters, they must engage in training and strengthening exercises. As a child, leading a physically active lifestyle supports a healthy lifestyle and disease prevention. Physical inactivity is a primary contributor to juvenile obesity, and obese children are less physically fit than children of normal weight.

Regular physical activity has been related to optimum metabolic function and is essential for a child's social and mental development. The major goal of obesity treatment is to achieve weight loss in order to reduce health risks, maintain healthy body weight, and avoid weight regain.

How Should Physical Activity Be Designed for Controlling Obesity in Children?

Physical activity interventions should be designed to:

  • Preserve lean body mass.

  • Be tailored based on the preferences of the child.

  • Be aerobic.

  • Be realistic in intensity and duration.

  • Be fun.

  • Develop a level of activity that can be maintained after the supervised component of treatment has ended.

The individual components of sessions should include games that improve:

  • Warm-up and preparation.

  • Fundamental motor skills include locomotor skills (e.g., single-leg stand, hopping, jumping, sliding) and object control skills (e.g., throwing and catching overhand and underhand, striking, dribbling, and kicking).

  • Muscular strength and flexibility.

  • Core stability, static and dynamic balance.

  • Cardiorespiratory endurance.

  • Posture and gait.

  • Preparing the child for participation in team sports and organized games.

What Activities Should Be Discouraged in Obese Children?

Sedentary activities should be discouraged in addition to encouraging active play and physical activity. The amount of time spent watching television and using screens has been linked to childhood obesity. Similarly, treatment should address the child's nutritional needs as well as promote sleep.

Short sleep duration has been linked to childhood obesity and cardiovascular health, and as a child's level of physical activity is increased, improvements in sleep are frequently noted. Obesity in children is on the rise, and it is a global concern and burden.

Unfortunately, among the many additional barriers, the increasing popularity of everyday use of technology in children at this age promotes an inactive lifestyle. It is critical to recognize and understand kid obesity, as well as how to encourage youngsters to become more active and adopt lifestyle adjustments that will help them manage their weight and live a healthy lifestyle.


Given persistent improvements in many obesity-related outcomes, physiotherapists should explore multicomponent methods, including increasing the quantity of physical exercise when managing children with obesity. These methods are ideally suited to physiotherapists' practice and experience in physical activity prescription for the treatment of pediatric obesity. Future studies should look into the impact of motor skill interventions, as well as the influence of environmental changes and parental involvement in intervention success.

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Last reviewed at:
13 Dec 2022  -  5 min read




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