In recent years, childhood obesity has been increasing at an alarming rate. According to the World Health Organisation, in 2016, the number of overweight children under the age of five globally was estimated to be over 41 million. Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition, and if not properly addressed, children are likely to stay obese in their adolescence, which could result in major short-term and long-term consequences.
Overweight children tend to have problems in both their physical and mental well-being. They are prone to high blood pressure and cholesterol, joint problems and muscular discomfort, increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, and type-2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Children may also experience discomfort while breathing, gallstones and gastroesophageal reflux, eating disorders, early menstruation and fatigue. Increased psychological problems are also common, including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
And there are social problems, too; children who are overweight are an easy target for bullying and being stigmatized, and as a result, some studies show that some of them lack certain social skills and perform poorly in academics. Sadly, most children who are overweight stay the same through their adolescence, and can experience further complications such as heart disease, stroke, liver disease, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer.
Childhood obesity can be a side effect of certain medications or psychological factors such as depression, sadness, anxiety or nervousness. It can also be genetic. The good news is that, by making a few of the basic lifestyles changes outlined here, childhood obesity can be prevented and/or reversed.
1. Establish healthy eating habits- Nutritious food is essential for children to maintain a healthy weight. However, it is equally important to keep a tab on how much kids eat. Foods that are rich in nutrients include:
• Plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grain products
• Low-fat or non-fat milk, Lean meats, poultry, lentils and beans
• In addition, consuming lots of water and limiting the intake of sweetened beverages, sodium and saturated fats helps, too.
2. Encourage physical activity- Children who do not participate in any kind of physical activity are at a higher risk for obesity. Along with eating healthy food, it is essential for children to exercise daily for atleast an hour in order to stay healthy and fit. Encourage your kids to play outdoor sports, or play activity-based video games that require moving around, or indoor games. Doing household chores is another way to stay active, even though it may not be kids ‘first choice.
3. Don’t insist on no fat; insist on good fat- Instead of trying to cut down the entire fat intake from your child’s diet, incorporate some healthy fats which do not contribute to weight gain. Some unsaturated or healthy fats include: olive oil, tofu, soy, fatty fish, spinach, kale, nuts, flaxseeds, avocados, and brussels sprouts. It is best to avoid Trans fats in fried food, and anything that has partially hydrogenated oils and packaged baked goods.
4. Keep a check on the number of servings and portion sizes- To make sure your child is not gaining unnecessary weight, try to limit their portion sizes, and ensure they eat at regular intervals. It’s a good idea to keep a tab on the intake of calories by reading food labels. When you’re eating out, share an entrée with your children, or instead order just one appetizer. Children should be given small portions of high-calorie treats such as chocolates, cheese or pizza.
5. Reduce sedentary time- Some research shows a connection between screen time and obesity. To make sure your child adapts healthier habits, limit the amount of time he or she watches television, plays video games, and works on computers to one to two hours per day. Reducing sedentary time also helps increase physical activity. Allow your child to eat only at the table, and not while watching television as they tend to eat more that way.
6. Ensure proper sleep- Studies show that children who are deprived of the recommended number of hours of sleep are at a higher risk of gaining excess weight. Younger children may need upto 12 hours of sleep; school-aged children need upto 10 hours; and adolescents require upto 9 hours of sleep per night.
Childhood obesity can be prevented, but parents must make the right nutritional choices for their children and encourage a few healthy lifestyle changes. So incorporate these tips and see the change!