The general population are profoundly affected by fast pace technology and economic advancement; constantly forgetting the importance of health as a crucial life aspect. As health is not on top of our priority list (unless challenged by diseases), people tend to slack towards the convenience of junk food, neglecting their “greens” and do not have the motivation for physical activities leading to an increase in the prevalence of obesity globally.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), childhood obesity is drastically rising at an alarming rate. It is now considered an urgent metropolitan phenomenon with 6% overweight preschool children and it is estimated to increase continuously each year. Specifically, 60% of Malaysians are overweight, ranked as the 6th Asian country with the highest prevalence of obesity. 38% of them are children.
The most prominent factors causing abnormal weight gain in children include easy access to the internet and electronic gadgets, neglected dietary intakes, daily activities and even a poor family relationship. Getting the right nutrients and healthy foods in balance is pivotal for a child to have proper body development and growth. For example, the lack of proper vitamins and minerals lead to a lethargic child with poor appetite. Parents are considered as a child’s first teacher as children are often influenced by the lifestyles and the dietary intake of their family. A lack of restriction in junk food or if parents themselves live off processed and “convenient” food increases the chances of developing poor dietary habits and abnormal weight gain among young children.
It is understandable that 80% of overweight children aged 10 to 13 years old can slowly transit to obese adults as they grow up. Obesity can increase the risk of developing metabolic syndrome that leads to chronic diseases (chronic kidney failure, atherosclerosis and etc). Unless the excess weight is shed off and maintained with a healthy lifestyle and diet, the risk of getting chronic diseases will be drastically increased.
The foremost important element in the intervention of childhood obesity is family support. The presence of family members is crucial to whatever we encourage a child to do to prevent or turn obesity around. Activities such as hiking and cycling work well as group activities and encourage them to mingle around peers for some team building sports (badminton etc) to prevent idleness.
Meal planning plays an important role which not only encourages a child but the whole household as well to eat healthy. Incorporate vegetables and fruits, balanced with meat and restrict fast food or junk food intake for a better diet change. Getting a child to eat healthy food is not easy therefore your first step to change? Create healthy food which is pleasing to the eyes and yummy to the palette (Yes! Presentation matters!). Do remember, for any food that comes with a label; check it diligently for the sake of your child. Going organic and natural is always a safe option even though it might costs more.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is not an overnight task and especially with our busy lifestyles, we tend to go back to the comfort of our old habits faster than we can imagine. Hence as parents or caretakers of the next generation, we ourselves need to live healthy, be well and stay focused!
- Berenson GS, Srinivasan SR, Bao W, Newman WP, Tracy RE & Wattigney WA. (1998). Association between multiple cardiovascular risk factors and atherosclerosis in children and young adults. The Bogalusa Heart Study. New England Journal of Medicine. 338:1650-1656.
- World Health Organization. (2016). Report of the commission on ending childhood obesity. World Health Organization.
- Kraak, V. A., Liverman, C. T., & Koplan, J. P. (Eds.). (2005). Preventing childhood obesity: health in the balance. National Academies Press.
- Engeland, A., Tone, B, Tverdal, A., & Søgaard, A.J. Obesity in Adolescence and Adulthood and the Risk of Adult Mortality. Epidemiology 2004;15:79-85.