Keep childhood obesity at bay with these tips.
WORDS NURULHUDA SUHAIMI
Obesity is a health issue that is becoming increasingly prevalent globally. According to the World Health Organisation, “worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980”, and that “41 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese in 2014”.
Singapore is not immune to the problem of obesity among its population. Statistics from the last National Health Survey in 2O1O state that the prevalence of obesity in Singapore has increased by O.7 percentage point per year since 2OO4.
Childhood Obesity Culprits
There are various factors that may result in a child becoming obese, ranging from physical factors such as not exercising regularly to emotional ones like stress.
It’s not a surprise that children who don’t engage in regular physical activity face a higher risk of becoming obese. “Children who don’t exercise much are more likely to gain weight because they don’t burn as many calories,” says Sarah Shamila, head of Nutrition and Dietetic Services, Mount Alvernia Hospital. Spending too much time doing sedentary activities can exacerbate the problem too, such as watching television or playing video games.
Everyone knows an unhealthy diet of high-calorie foods increases the risk of obesity.
When children are used to having these kinds of food in their diet,
it will be harder for them to break the habit when they are older, which
can worsen the obesity problem in the long run.
An unhealthy diet isn’t made up of only unhealthy foods. The types of beverages children drink can also cause obesity. “[…] more and more evidence points to sugary drinks, including fruit juices, as culprits of obesity in some people,” says Shamila.
The environment children are in can have a significant influence on their lifestyle. Young children are impressionable, and the habits practised by the rest of the family can affect their lifestyle choices. For instance, if you eat fast food often, your child might do the same. Or if you don’t engage in regular exercise, your child will less likely stay active too.
According to Dr Tan Zhen Han, paediatrician from SBCC Baby & Child Clinic (Bukit Panjang), genetic factors may increase the risk of childhood obesity as well. “The risk of a child becoming overweight is linked to parental overweight and obesity,” he says.
Negative emotions can contribute to the risk of childhood obesity if the child doesn’t know how to manage them in healthy ways. For example, some children might resort to overeating or snacking on sugary foods when they are feeling stressed or upset.
Effects of Childhood Obesity
Obesity can have adverse effects on a child’s health, some of which might even persist into adulthood if they are not tackled with early on.
Children who are obese are more likely to develop diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Children with type 2 diabetes – which is a lifelong disease –
has a high level of sugar (glucose) in their blood, and they may face
complications including kidney disease and heart disease.
Other diseases resulting from childhood obesity include high cholesterol and high blood pressure, both of which can be caused by poor nutrition, according to Shamila. “These factors can contribute to the buildup of plaques in the arteries. These plaques can cause arteries to narrow and harden, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke later in life,” she says.
The effects of childhood obesity are not only limited to diseases. Children who are obese face a higher risk of experiencing negative effects to their emotional health due to them being bullied or teased by their peers. This may lead to these children having low self-esteem and even depression.
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