Childhood obesity is a worldwide problem
Nowadays, the general myth is that the baby is healthy when it is overweight or obese. Before 1975, most of the world’s population lived in countries where malnutrition killed more people. However, now the situation is just the opposite (WHO). In just 40 years, the number of school-age children and adolescents with obesity has increased more than 10 folds, from 11 million to 124 million (2016 estimates). In addition, about 216 million were classified as overweight but not obese.
Obese and Overweight
Overweight and obesity are defined as excessive fat accumulation on the body that may impair health.
BMI (Body mass index) is the index that is used to classify overweight and obesity. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilogram by the square of height in meters.
Overweight is ‘weight-for-height greater than 2 standard deviations above WHO Child Growth Standards median’ and obese is ‘greater than 3 standard deviations above WHO child growth standard median’.
What causes Obesity in children?
There are many causes related to children’s physical, psychological, and social situations (Biopsychosocial).
Physical or Biological causes
- a) Genetic – Some children may suffer from obesity due to congenital disorders like Prader-Willi syndrome. Hereditary traits also transmit to offspring from their parents but they get dominated when the child eats more than his or her daily energy expenditure.
- b) Energy Imbalance – Continuously eating high-calorie food, such as junk food, sugary and fatty items like candy, chocolates, ice-creams, drinks, fruits juices, and salty foods can cause children to gain weight.
- c) Sedentary Lifestyle – Sitting for many hours on one spot can put the body into saving mode and can accumulate fat for future use as part of the body’s energy reserve mechanism.
- d) Medication – Certain medications can increase weight in children like steroids used in common Asthma.
- a) Stress – Nowadays, many children are under stress from peer pressure, high expectations from parents, mobile games, and stress imbalances. The hormones that lead to overeating called emotional eating can cause weight gain.
- b) Junk food access – If one’s kitchen is full of high-calorie food and all family members are a foodie then the children also mimic their parents. They tend to eat easily accessible junk food.
Children are not aware of diet and nutrition so they eat what is available at home and outside. So, society also plays an important role in child obesity.
- a) Media – Media is the most influencing factor in child obesity. It’s a two-edged sword as it can create awareness. However, the dark side is that the media like TV and social media is used for promoting junk food. They all advertise false junk food trends. Many celebrities also promote junk food being tasty which leads to children demanding that food. This is leading to weight gain.
- b) Online Education – Lockdown, COVID-19 crises, and online classes also inhibited children’s activity and resulted in overweight.
Complications of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity often causes many consequences in a child’s biological, social, and emotional health.
Biological (Physical) Complications
Biological complications of childhood obesity may include –
- a) Hyperlipidemia and hypertension – Obesity in children can lead to hyperlipidemia which may increase the risk of plaques in arteries. It can also add the risk of increasing the stiffness in arteries called atherosclerosis which causes hyperbaton, possibly leading to a heart attack or stroke in later life.
- b) Sleep apnoea – Excess fat in the neck and throat area can cause snoring and apnoea (breathing repeatedly stops and starts).
- c) Joint Pain – Extra load on joints can inflame the joints like knees and cause joint pain.
- d) Laziness – Overweight can slow down metabolism, and slowing down activity levels results in laziness.
- e) Fatty liver disorder – Due to excess fat accumulation in the liver, children may suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disorder, which may be harmful in their future life.
Social and Psychological Complications
Obese children may get teased by their friends which may lead to autism or depression. They become lazy which makes it difficult for them to focus on studying. This may further decrease their self-esteem and productivity.
How to Prevent Child Obesity?
As we know, children are what the family and society are. So, we have to change our family and society’s eating habits. We have to change our eating trends. We can try some of the following remedies.
- Responsible parenting – Parents play a major role in their ward’s eating habits. Cut the access to junk foods. Cleaning your kitchen means filling your kitchen and dining table with low salt, low processed sugar, low oil food. Provoke children to be active and play outdoor games. Offer a reward for good habits. Make tasty recipes and healthy food.
- Responsibility of Society – Our environment is also responsible for making kids obese. US President Barack Obama established the first-ever Task Force on Childhood Obesity and made guidelines for parents, schools, and food companies to do the needful. Government should take action against misleading advertisements. Schools can also make a difference by allowing only healthy food in their campus canteen and by motivating kids to participate in outdoor sports.
Hence, to put together, the strategies and tactics said above should achieve the goal of solving the problem of childhood obesity and saving our future.
Author: Dr Datta Ambekar