Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. It is a serious medical condition that affects both children and adolescents. Before now, the word obesity was rarely mentioned among children but that is no longer the case. The recent number of obese and overweight children recorded in the world is indeed alarming.
A child is said to be obese when the child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height. The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2014 expressed its worry over the number of overweight children in both low and middle income countries.
Stating that the number of obese and overweight children in the world could balloon from 44 million in 2012 to 75 million in 2025. This is faster than the growth rate from 1990, when the number was 31 million.
In Africa alone, the number of obese and overweight children expanded from four to 10 million over the same period.
This is a call to parents, especially mothers to watch over what their children and wards eat and ensure that that extra weight is not tilting toward obesity. Especially if you live in Africa where ‘fatness’ among children is sometimes regarded as a sign of ‘good living’ or a sign that a child is well fed.
Dangers Of Childhood Obesity
When children are obese, they are exposed to health problems and diseases which were once associated with adults alone such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Childhood obesity can also lead to poor self-esteem and depression.
Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of premature death and disability in adulthood. Other risks associated with childhood obesity includes:
- Cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke)
- Musculoskeletal disorders, especially osteoarthritis; and
- Certain types of cancer (endometrial, breast and colon).
Causes Of Childhood Obesity
There are several causes of obesity in children. According to WHO, the main and major cause of childhood overweight and obesity is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.
Unhealthy eating and regular consumption of foods high in calories like fast food, cookies and other baked goods, soda, candy, chips and vending machine snacks contribute to weight gain which may lead to obesity.
Although this is not common, there are certain genetic diseases and hormonal disorders that can dispose a child to obesity, such as hypothyroidism, (when the thyroid gland, located in the neck just below the voice box, is under active and does not release enough of the hormones that control metabolism), Prader-Willi syndrome (a genetic disorder affecting the part of the brain that controls feelings of hunger) and Cushing’s syndrome (a disorder in which your body is exposed to too much of the hormone Cortisol from overproduction in the adrenal glands or use of medications such as those for asthma).
Lack Of Physical Exercise
Playing video games, watching television, computers, and so on, are all part of indoor activities that keep kids inside the house, which means they don’t get to do much of outdoor activities which could help them burn calories. Thus, they are more likely to gain weight. Consider encouraging your child to do more outside games/play and take walks instead of relying on cars. It has been discovered that most kids of preschool age are already lacking enough activity, which often translates into poor exercise habits later in life.
The kind of environment a child is exposed to can actually affect his eating habits and thus increase his chance of being obsess. For instance, If every time a child opens up the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets, he or she is presented with bags of chips, candy bars and microwave pizza, then that’s likely what they will eat. Similarly, if you keep your fridge stocked instead with tasty cut-up fruits and veggies (berries, baby carrots, red pepper strips) with low-fat ranch dip, low-fat yogurt and higher-fiber granola bars, then they will go for the healthier fare (rather than eat nothing at all). Don’t feel like you need to deny children all treats, but strive for a healthy balance.
The genes could also contribute. If a child is born into a family of overweight people, he/she may be genetically predisposed to the condition, especially if high-calorie food is readily available and physical activity is not encouraged.
Controlling Childhood Obesity
Encourage Healthy Eating And Snacking.
This does not mean the child should be placed on low-calorie or low-carbohydrate diet. Neither does it mean not allowing the child to eat when they’re hungry, because they actually need nutrients and calories to develop and grow. You just need to ensure that these come from healthy foods, not from junk and processed foods.
Encourage Outdoor Activities/Exercise
This is an important factor. Overweight and obese children will need a minimum of a 30-minutes exercise daily and any other physical activity that gets your child away from the TV set is a good idea.