Childhood obesity has reached epidemic levels in developed countries and is now seen rising even in the developing countries. Environmental factors, lifestyle choices and the cultural environment are responsible for the rising prevalence of obesity in the world. Excess calorie intake in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, aerated drinks and sweets, decrease in the physical activity levels and increased portion sizes are a few major reasons for childhood obesity.
You are what you eat – an old adage holds good children too. With the change in the eating patterns and influences of other environmental and social factors now, we see that children are eating foods that are high in calories, fat, and sugar and/or salt. Due to these changes in the food choices that they make the weight and body composition of the children is affected. Child nutritionist worldwide are concerned about the rise in childhood obesity.
What Are The Contributing Factors To Childhood Obesity?
1. Advertising: Most commercials today are children oriented. They are mainly directed towards the children with the usage of their favourite cartoon characters, celebrities etc. Children are thus encouraged to buy the foods that they see in the commercials along with their favourite characters whether the food is good for them or not.
2. Lack of Activity: Kids today have more access to devices like the mobile phones, computers, tablets, television, etc. which have replaced outdoor activities or physical activities like a sport. This is one of the contributing factors for weight gain seen in children today.
3. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages: Carbonated and extra sugar added beverages are zero nutrition drinks that increase the total calorie intake and hence lead to excess weight gain.
4. Monkey see monkey do: Peers can have a great influence on the eating habits and the attitude of children towards food. They may imitate the behavior of their friends in eating the unhealthy foods without understanding whether it is right or wrong. Eg if your child’s friend carries biscuits, chips, cookies or cakes to school he / she too may demand the same from you and refuse to eat the healthier options that you may send. Eating these foods regularly contributes to weight gain.
5. Fast food consumption: The consumption of fast food has increased in the recent past with both the parents working and also because of a change in the socio-economic status of people. Fast foods offer very little nutritional value and contain a high amount of calories.
6. Family factors: Family eating patterns or eating habits play a very influencing role in forming a child’s eating habit. If children see their parents follow an active life and eat good food most of the times they will follow suite and these habits remain through their entire adult life.
Long-Term Consequences Of Childhood Obesity On Children
Children who are obese are at a higher risk of developing health problems when compared to those who are not. Childhood obesity is a major risk factor for adult obesity and is also associated with many other health problems like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, certain cancers, joint problems, fatty liver or deranged lipid levels. The risk for these conditions increases in adulthood when the weight and dietary food habits are not controlled in childhood itself.
Being overweight or obese not only affects the child’s physical health but also has psychological effects. They develop low self-esteem as they are on the heavier side of the weighing machine as compared to many others. They may become victims of discrimination and social astigmatism as they might be bullied by their peers which could lead to low self-confidence in things they do leading to depression, poor academic performance, loneliness and sadness. Obese kids get tired easily due to hormonal or nutritional imbalances in the body, which again leads to a sedentary lifestyle and thus the vicious cycle of obesity continues.
What Steps Can Be Taken To Prevent Childhood Obesity Or Being Overweight?
Going on a diet for children to lose weight by cutting down on the portion sizes of the food drastically is inappropriate. Children in their growth years require the nutrients in food to help them grow and develop better. The goal for children who are overweight or obese is to reduce the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development to take place. This can be done when you help children learn about what they are eating, teach them to make healthy food choices, find ways to make the food they are eating healthier and reduce the calorie-rich food intake. Following are the ways:
1. Create healthy eating habits: Firstly, by incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, plant-based protein like pulses, lentils and beans regularly in their diets, children can learn how to eat right. Secondly, serve them healthy snacks in between meals in reasonable portions to avoiding overeating at the main meals. Thirdly, limit the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, aerated drinks and foods rich in saturated fats like fries, burger, pizza, cakes, doughnuts etc.
2. Encourage regular physical activity: Apart from planning for their homework, music or other extracurricular activities, there needs to be some plan for their physical activity too. Enroll him/her in a sport of his/her liking since there is a greater likelihood of continuing with it. Take them to the park or the playground for some unstructured play.
3. Watch their high-calorie food intake: High-calorie foods are the foods that are high in sugar, salt and/or fat. Though children should enjoy all foods in moderation, restricting the intake of these high-calorie foods will help keep the total calorie intake under check.
4. Cut down the screen time: Limit the amount of time children spend watching television, playing computer games, using the smartphone or other electronic devices as spending more time on these makes them inactive. Also allowing them to watch television for more time can lead to more munching of snacks and exposure to advertisements of foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat.
Childhood obesity is not something that needs to be neglected and is a serious issue with the advancement of the fast food, the ready availability of foods and change in lifestyle. Hence children should be educated to choose healthy food and stay active. Getting the child into weight loss programs is never a good idea. Instead what works is teaching them the art of eating right for a healthy adult life. Nutritionist in Mumbai and dietitians in Mumbai with their nutrition programs for children can help formulate healthy eating plans for children of all age groups to instil the right eating habits and also supports their growth and development.
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