Growing Big… And Round?

The rate of childhood obesity has been growing in an alarming manner and is now one of the most common nutritional problems worldwide. Childhood obesity has been associated with numerous health problems that extend well into adolescence and is in fact an early risk factor for much of adult morbidity and mortality.

What Causes Obesity in Children?

Genetic factors may be one of the reasons children become overweight or obese. But with more kids spending less time being physically active and more time in front of the television or computer, it’s no wonder the numbers of overweight children have been rising at alarming rates. Today’s busy parents also do not have enough time to prepare balanced and nutritious meals for their children and family, leaning towards fast foods and other unhealthy alternatives that are high in sugar, salt and empty calories.

Unhealthy Lifestyles Invite Diseases

Overweight children have a higher risk of developing chronic diseases in the future such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol – all of which have been once considered exclusively adult diseases. With current eating habits and sedentary lifestyles, these will affect the child’s health, as well as his quality of life in the future. Some children may even develop psychological problems, including depression and eating disorders, and also be at risk for substance abuse.

Why Does this Happen?

The convenience of pre-packaged foods and fast food reaches out to ease the burden of working parents. However, many parents do not realise the content of these food products. Many of the products may contain high sugar, saturated fats and salt. Parents should read the ingredients stated on the label. Sugar includes palm sugar, syrup and condensed milk, while salt includes sodium chloride, soy sauce and MSG. Processed food usually contains high levels of salt (or preservatives) so that the food may last longer.

Fat Figures!
According to studies conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, prevalence of overweight children had risen from 11.0% in 2001/02 to 12.8% in 2007/08. Whereas prevalence for obesity had increased from 9.7% in 2001/02 to 13.7% in 2007/08. Girls (13%) were more overweight but it is the boys (17.5%) that were more obese.

The over-consumption of food, from snacks (eg sweets, chips, chocolates) to daily meals served on the table plays a part. When these foods are consumed more than the dailyrecommended values for the child and with the lack of physical activity (about 54.2% do not play sports in school), it causes the unused calories to be stored in the body as fat. Calorie-dense (eg cakes) and fried foods are usually a favourite with kids.

The Healthy Way Out

Helping your overweight child starts with healthy eating habits at home.

  • Balance, Moderation, Variety (BMV). Ensure that meals consist of a balance of all food groups in the food pyramid, in moderate portions and in variety throughout the day.
  • Practice what you preach. Cultivate good eating habits and an active lifestyle within the family. You are his role model and whatever actions you take will set an example for him.
  • Do not single out your child. Be sensitive to your child’s needs, as overweight children tend to be more self-conscious. Encouragement and support from the family is important.
  • Get him moving. Give him simple chores such as wiping bookshelves, sweeping or washing his own school shoes. These add up to his daily physical activity, and indirectly teach him about responsibility.
  • Family fun time. Make weekends a family time with activities like swimming and cycling in the park with the kids. Create other fun activities that they will enjoy and look forward to.

Nip childhood obesity in the bud. Cultivate the simple rules of practising BMV and physical activity in the family, it is never too late to start now. He may not realise the importance of a healthy lifestyle now, but by making it a family affair, you are caring for him and also the family for future well being.

Subscribe to our parenting newsletter.