Childhood obesity is an epidemic and it is becoming one of the most serious pubic health challenges of the 21st century. It is even affecting lower and middle-income countries, especially in the urban areas.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), the 2010 global number of overweight children under the age of 5 is about over 42 million and close to 35 million are in the developing countries.

When is a child obese?

The Body Mass Index (BMI) measures the ratio of weight to height. For children, BMI is age and gender specific as boys and girls have different growth rate. So, it is normally based on specific chart as a percentile of the weight and height.

  • Normal weight – 5th -85th percentile
  • High risk of overweight – 85th-95th percentile
  • Overweight – greater than 95th percentile.

The actual definition of obesity is the excessive amount of body fat not weight. So, the BMI is not the only indicator.

Why does childhood obesity matter?

Overweight and obese children are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop chronic health issues at a younger age in adulthood.

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Certain cancer ( endometrial, breast, colon cancer )

2.6 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

What are the causes of childhood obesity?

There is a major shift in diet toward increase intake of energy dense food, which is high in fat, sugar and salt but low in vitamins, mineral and fiber.

Decrease in physical activity level during recreational time such as video games, computer games and watching TV.

What can be done?

Childhood obesity is largely preventable. The primary responsibility lies in the family and you should adopt the “whole family approach” starting with the parents, who, should “lead by example” and “practice what you preach”.

The key to managing this is to encourage healthy eating habits and promote physical activities:

Encourage Health Eating Habits

1.     Provide children with a wide variety of food including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk. This will ensure they get all the nutrients they need for proper growth and development.

2.     Don’t maintain a clean plate policy. If kids are satisfied, don’t force them to continue eating. But, reinforce the idea that they should only eat when they are hungry.

3.     Don’t keep junk food in the house. Stock ready to eat fruits and vegetables and nuts for snacking. Teach them the difference between carbohydrate, protein and fat and emphasize the importance of vitamin, minerals and fiber.

4.     Don’t talk about bad food or eliminate sweets and favorite snacks completely. They may rebel and sneak them in on their own or over eat the forbidden food outside the home.

5.     Reduce intake of high fructose corn syrup from packaged drinks and beverages. They are empty calories and easily turn into fat.

Promote Physical Activities

1.     WHO recommends that children age 5-17 years should engage in 60 mins of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activities daily. This can be broken in 30 mins twice a day.

2.     Increase opportunities for children to engage in physical activities throughout the day. Go grocery shopping together. Cut TV, video games, computer games time. Even reading a book burns more calories than watching TV or playing video games.

3.     For children who have not been active, progressively increase in activity to eventually achieve the target. Start with small amount of physical activity, gradually increasing the duration, frequency and intensity over time.

There are many benefits to increased in physical activities:

  • Develop healthy bone, muscle, joints, heart and lung
  • Develop co-ordination and control
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Help social development by providing opportunities for self-expression, social interaction, building self-confidence and leadership development.

Children who engage in regular and structured physical activities demonstrate higher academic performance and are readily avoiding unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse.

How are you managing your overweight children? Share your thoughts?

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