Healthy Slide

RAPID TRENDS OF OBESITY AMONG CHILDREN

Childhood obesity is a serious public health challenge of the 21st century. This is a global challenge which is steadily affecting many low- and middle-income countries, typically in the urban setting. Globally, the number of overweight children under the age of five was estimated to be over 41 million in 2016.

Overweight or obesity which is a form of malnutrition have lost focus under the lens of public health for a very longtime and now posing a great threat to health and socio-economic sate of a country. Countries like China are putting in place incentives to motivate its young citizens to lose weight for a prize in order to curb this challenge.

Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese in adulthood and more likely to develop non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.

Obesity, as well as its related diseases, are largely preventable. Prevention of childhood obesity therefore requires a high priority.

What then is childhood obesity? This refers to a body mass index (BMI) equal to or greater than the 95th percentile for age and gender in children. BMI is weight (in kilograms) divided by height (in meters) squared.

Although genetics and some disorders can lead to obesity, most childhood obesity results from a lack of physical activity and consuming more calories than needed. Although most of the complications of obesity occur in adulthood, obese children are more likely than their peers to have high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes at an early onset.

What then are the risk factors associated with childhood obesity? There are many factors typically working in combination, increasing your child’s risk of becoming overweight. These factors are:

  • Genetics: Recent research has found that changes in digestive hormones can affect the signals that inform your brain you are full. This can be seen in a familiar pattern of obesity in some patients.
  • Diet: Regular intake of high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, baked foods, and vending machine snacks, can cause your child to gain weight. Candy and desserts also can cause weight gain. A lot of evidence and research points to sugary drinks, including soda, carbonated fruit juices as culprits of obesity in some individuals.
  • Lack of exercise: Lack of physical activity in children causes them to gain weight because they don’t burn as much calories as they take in. Too much time spent in sedentary activities such as watching television or playing video games, is a contributory factor to this problem.
  • Family factors: Children from families with a history of obesity are more likely to put on weight. This is especially evident in an environment where high-calorie foods are always available and physical activity is not encouraged.
  • Psychological factors: Stress from the person, parents, and family can increase the child’s risk of obesity. Some children tend to overeat to cope with problems or to deal with emotional stress or to fight boredom. Their parents tend to have similar tendencies.
  • Socioeconomic factors: Persons in communities with limited resources and access to supermarkets tend to buy convenience foods such as frozen meals, crackers, cookies and fast food. Moreover, people who live in lower income neighborhoods might not have access to safe places to exercise.
  • Nannies: The working class today spend more time at work or tend to have two or more jobs in order to keep with up the high standard of living today. Children are therefore raised by nannies and/or retired grandparents who spoil them with goodies. This is a typical picture in the developed world.

With all the risk factors brought to light, what then are the complications of childhood obesity?

Childhood obesity can have complications affecting the physical, social and emotional state of the child.

Physical Complications:

  • Type 2 Diabetes: A chronic condition affecting the body’s mechanism of utilizing sugar (glucose). Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Metabolic syndrome: A cluster of conditions that can put the child at risk of heart disease, diabetes or other health problems. Conditions include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL (high-density lipoproteins) known as ‘good’ cholesterol and excess abdominal fat.
  • High cholesterol and high blood pressure: Poor diet intake can cause the child to develop one or both of these conditions. These factors can contribute to the buildup of plaques in the arteries, which can cause arteries to narrow and harden, possibly leading to a heart attack or stroke later in life.

Social and Emotional Complications:

  • Low self-esteem: Children often tease or bully their overweight peers. This leads to a loss of self-esteem and an increased risk of depression as a result.
  • Behavior and learning problems: Overweight children tend to have more anxiety and poorer social skills than normal-weight children do. These problems might lead children who are overweight either to act out and disrupt their classes or to withdraw socially.

In what way then can we prevent childhood obesity? Here are some few ways to keep your child at a healthy weight and prevent the risk of becoming overweight.

  • Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Provide plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat meals as a family as often as possible.
  • Adjust portion sizes appropriately for age.
  • Limit eating out, especially at fast-food restaurants, and when you do eat out, teach your child how to make healthier choices.
  • Limit TV to less than 2 hours a day for children older than 2, and don’t allow television for children younger than 2.
  • Be sure your children get enough sleep.

In a nutshell, if you are worried about your child putting on too much weight, talk to your doctor. The child’s doctor would assess the BMI and would perform other tests if necessary, to help figure out if your child’s weight could pose health problems.