Do you notice your child overeating and snacking too often? Is his weight gain excessive and is he having difficulty with physical exercise lessons at school? If you answered yes, it’s time to monitor your child’s health and weight to ensure his well-being in future.
What is childhood obesity?
A child is of a healthy weight when his Body Mass Index (calculated by dividing the weight of the individual by the square of his height) is between 18.5 and 25. He is considered obese when this number is beyond 25.
Technically, being overweight refers to having excess body weight for a particular height due to fat, muscle, bone, water or a combination of these factors. Obesity, meanwhile, means one has excess body fat.
These conditions come about due to caloric imbalance, which occurs when too few calories are used for the amount of calories taken in. Genetic, behavioural and environmental factors also play a part.
In the UAE
According to a UAE study in 2013, one in three children is obese or overweight. The National newspaper reported that about 1,440 children and teenagers (aged six to 19) participated in the study, with 14.2 per cent categorised as overweight and 19.8 per cent as obese.
Most of the participants were Emiratis, while a small portion of them were expatriates. Dr Abdulla Al Junaibi of Zayed Military Hospital, the study’s lead researcher, says those with overweight or obese parents face higher risks of such weight problems.
Effects of obesity on children
Children with weight problems will face effects on their health and general well-being in the immediate and long term future.
Youngsters who are obese have higher chances of getting risk factors for cardiovascular diseases including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Such adolescents also have a higher likelihood of getting prediabetes, where blood glucose levels show a high risk for diabetes development.
If your child is obese, he faces a greater risk of suffering from bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and social and psychological problems that stem from bullying and low self-esteem.
In the long term, those who are obese at a young age are more likely to be obese when they grow up. This puts them at a higher risk for adult problems such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis.
Obesity and being overweight are also linked to higher risks for many cancer types such as breast, colon, kidney, cervix and prostate.
How do you prevent childhood obesity?
As a parent, keep a close watch on your children’s lifestyle and habits. Provide them with healthy options and snacks at home and organise walks or games with them regularly for a more active lifestyle. These can reduce the chances of becoming obese and being afflicted by related diseases.
Outside the home, societal institutions also play a key role in children and adolescents’ behaviours. Campaigns, events and actions taken by communities, schools, childcare organisations, government bodies, media and food and beverage companies, for example, affect children’s dietary and physical habits.
For instance, TV ads promoting high-sugar soda drinks shown during times when the audience is mostly impressionable schoolchildren can lead to more consumption of such unhealthy drinks.
Schools remain an important institution for children to adopt healthy habits. As an establishment where children spend most of their time, they have a duty to create an environment which encourages healthy behaviours, such as by providing healthy school lunches, and scheduling regular physical activity classes for their students.
Obesity among children is a growing problem, which has to be tackled across all sectors. But you can start by prioritising your own child’s health.