Childhood obesity

What is obesity? The facts

Obesity is defined as the state of being so overweight that health is at risk.

Obesity is a rising problem globally, with 300 million adults across the world classed as obese. The World Health Organization predicts there will be 2.3 billion overweight adults in the world by 2015 and more than 700 million of them will be obese.

Of special concern is the increasing incidence of child obesity.

Approximately 22 million children under five are estimated to be overweight worldwide.

In the UK we’ve seen a dramatic increase in childhood obesity in recent years. It’s estimated that 16.9 per cent of boys and 16.8 per cent of girls aged 2-10 years in England are currently classified as obese, an increase from 9.6 per cent and 10.3 per cent respectively in 1995. That’s means roughly 1 in 5 children are obese.

If someone is obese in childhood they’re more than twice as likely to be obese as adults, giving them all the health problems associated with adult obesity. Some of which they may already have.

Causes

Obesity is very much a modern health issue. 50 years ago we didn’t even have a measurement for it. With modern day labour saving devices, convenience and fast food, motorized transport and more sedentary jobs, people are eating more and doing less.

More specifically, weight increase occurs when you take in more fat and calories than you can burn in a day. And the heavier you get, the less active you become, and yes your body craves more food to fill your expanding stomach.

For children, high calorie food such as chocolate, sweets, fizzy drinks, crisps and burgers, are cheap and readily available to them. Alongside this, physical exercise is no longer a part of many children’s daily lives. They don’t walk or cycle to school, they don’t play sports and much of their time is spent in front of the telly or computer.

Additionally, if there is a family history of being over-weight or obese, the children are more likely to be over-weight as well. Quite often, to prevent the onset of obesity in a child, the eating and activity habits of a whole family may need to change.

It is very unlikely a child will be over-weight due to medical problems.

Obesity – impact on life and health

Obesity and excess weight pose a major risk for serious diet-related chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and certain forms of cancer. Not to mention the psychological effects of low self-esteem and depression. In children it can also have a negative effect on their academic achievement and development.

Many of the health risks of obesity are adult related illnesses, however there is a growing number of overweight children who are also getting these health problems prematurely because of their weight problem.

And aside from the physical health problems, children can become increasingly withdrawn due to teasing about their size, losing self confidence and in some cases becoming depressed. There’s also evidence that this can have a knock-on effect on their education.

Ultimately, obesity has a huge effect on life expectancy, to the point that, having risen continuously for the past 50 years, our national life expectancy is expected to begin decreasing  over the next few years unless radical action is taken to tackle the obesity epidemic.

Prevention of childhood obesity

It is probable that if a child is overweight by the time they start school (at 4) they will probably continue to be overweight.

So the best way to prevent your child from being overweight is to feed them good healthy food from the outset, and teach them good eating habits. As well as keeping them as active as possible.

Food

If you already suspect that your child is overweight, make sure you get it confirmed by the doctor and don’t put them on some kind of extreme diet. Just try and help them to maintain their weight until they “grow” into it as they get taller.

Changing eating habits in the whole family will help your child change their habits and develop a more healthy attitude towards food and eating. Here are some good habits for the whole family to try and adopt

  • Have a planned eating routine of mealtimes and snack times to prevent grazing throughout the day
  • Don’t keep high fat, high sugar food and snacks in the house
  • Don’t label food as good or bad – chocolate and cake can still be an occasional treat.
  • Try and have proper family meals
  • Teach your child to eat slowly and savour their food and recognise when they’re tummy is full
  • Plan more activities as eating is often done out of boredom
  • Make sure enough water/diluted juice is being drunk and don’t give fizzy, sugar laden drinks as they’re not thirst quenching.
  • Don’t make a trip to a fast food place part of the family weekly routine
  • Encourage your child to cook with you and get involved with making their own food.
  • Feed a large variety of food with a good mix of whole grains, starch, protein, fruit and vegatables

Physical activity

Children should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. That can include walking too and from nursery/school, kicking a ball around in the garden, playing chase, skipping, dancing or going swimming.

If your child is still in a buggy at 3, get them out of it and make them walk. It may take a little longer to get where you’re going but they really shouldn’t need a buggy any more.

Limit tv and computer activities to 2 hours a days and encourage your child to be selective about what they would like to watch or do.

Provide love and support

If your child is overweight of even obese, they will need lots of love and support if they’re going to regain a normal weight and not develop long term issues with food and eating.

Sources: World Health Organisation www.who.int

Food standard Agency www.food.gov.uk

Department of Health www.dh.gov.uk

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