Updated: Aug 31
It is well documented that obesity is a risk factor for many diseases during adulthood is. It has been linked to certain heart diseases (including hypertension), type 2 diabetes mellitus, breathing difficulty and musculoskeletal complications (e.g. arthritis, hip fracture, etc). If not well controlled, these health conditions can lead to early death. Being obese also tends to be a risk factor for more diseases than being underweight.
Aside from the possible physical complications, obesity can also damage one's self-esteem leading to social isolation. If this happens to a child, his relationship within the family, school, or anywhere else could also be jeopardized.
Various studies in the past have determined that obese children could also become obese adults. In addition, childhood BMI has been linked with adult diseases.
Although the effects of unhealthy weight among children may not be evident until they get older, parents should not wait for that moment to come before they'd feel sorry and try to care more about their children's health.
Global healthcare systems have worked so hard to increase life expectancy among children by combating communicable and infectious diseases, such as measles, chicken pox, polio, diptheria, and many others. However, because of the health risks associated with obesity, this positive trend could potentially be challenged once again.
Overweight and Obesity Statistics Among Children and Youth
Within the United States, national estimates from 2015 to 2016 revealed that obesity prevalence among the youth (aged 2-19) was 18.5%. This number represents about 13.7 million children and adolescents.
Worldwide, it has been estimated that there are 340 million overweight or obesity cases among children and adolescents (aged 5-19) in 2016. This number among aged 5-19 is a dramatic increase from 4% in 1975 to over 18% in 2016. Meanwhile, there are around 40 million overweight or obesity cases among children under 5 years old as of 2018 (Source: WHO).
Definitions of Overweight and Obesity
Body Mass Index (BMI), which uses both height and weight measurements, is a simple way to screen overweight and obesity among people. It should be clear, though, that it is not a diagnostic tool to tell about a person's precise body fat or health condition because a healthcare practitioner has to conduct further assessments to make accurate diagnosis.
BMI calculation among children and adolescents considers age and sex because their body compositions may vary according to these parameters. Their BMI levels are compared based on other children of the same age and sex.
Overweight: Body Mass Index (BMI) equal to or greater than the 85th percentile but less than the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex.
Obesity: Body Mass Index (BMI) equal to or more than the 95th percentile for youth of the same age and gender
You may also want to visit BMI Percentile Calculator for Child and Teen on CDC's website.
Roles of Parents in Preventing Childhood Obesity
The good news is that with healthy lifestyle and timely consultation with your healthcare provider, obesity can be prevented or managed.
For parents, here are some ways to help prevent childhood obesity:
Reduce or limit eating in fast food restaurants because the meals they serve could be high in trans fat that increases bad cholesterol level (LDL). There are natural and artificial types of trans fat. Milk, dairy products, beef, pork, lamb, and other meat products contain natural trans fat. The more harmful type, artificial trans fat, is produced when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils. This process allows the oil to become solid at room temperature.
Trans fat is known make food taste a lot better and increase its shelf life. Many restaurants also use trans fat oils because it can be used for several times. Deep-fryer oils used for frying chicken meats and potatoes could contain trans fat.
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally determined in 2015 that partially hydrogenated oil (PHO), a common artificial trans fat ingredient in processed foods, is no longer considered safe and healthy for human consumption. Partially hydrogenated oil (PHO) has been linked to many cases of heart attacks and deaths.
Starting June 18, 2018, manufacturers are expected not to use PHOs anymore. FDA, however, still allowed products manufactured before that date to be sold in the marketplace until January 1, 2020.
You can also read the full article about Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Removing Trans Fat) on FDA's website.
So the next time you give something to your child, don't forget to check the label and look if PHO is one of the ingredients.
Offer kids healthy snacks which include fruits and vegetables (instead of junk food). As a parent, I know how difficult it is to introduce and even to influence kids to regularly eat fruits and vegetables. A lot of kids have aversion to fruits and vegetables because of its bland taste (compared to processed food) and texture (some kids don't like to chew on mushy or fiber-rich food).
If we'd come to think about it, the blame could be put on us if our children become obese. Their interest in healthy food largely relies on our tireless commitment to prepare and offer healthy meals.
The problem arises when parents easily give up with their kids' defiance on healthy food. It may take several attempts before kids will start enjoying them; thus consistency is the key. Parents are responsible for ultimately influencing their young children's preferences especially when it comes to health.
It is also wise to set good examples to our kids. Our effort would likely fail if they see us not practicing what we teach. There is a need to assess our own health habits and culture which could influence how we choose and prepare food. Consult with your primary healthcare provider if you think you need help with diet modification for you and your family.
Ensure that kids eat healthy breakfast. Let us not allow our busy schedules interfere with our commitment to prepare healthy, tasty and filling breakfast meals for our kids. Avoid processed food.
Insufficient intake or skipping breakfast can result to excessive hunger before the next meal. This can lead to binge eating and excessive calorie consumption later in the day.
Parents should be vigilant in limiting their children's use of computers, tablets, phones and other digital devices to no more than 2 hours per day (or less, which is better). This is to encourage other activities that would allow kids to use their bones and muscles. There must be a balance between the child's calorie intake and energy expenditure.
Limiting screen time may provoke some parent-child power struggle (making it harder for busier parents). Consistently implementing screen time rules could help solve this overtime. No matter how difficult it maybe on your side, planning ahead fun and educational physical activities and regularly allocating some of your valuable time doing those activities with your kids are essential in obesity prevention.
Parents need to be mindful of the child's meal portion sizes. We should be cautious not to force our children to overeat. In some culture, leaving unconsumed food on the plate isn't acceptable-- implying that everything on it must be consumed, even if the child is already full. Some even think that chunkiness is cute so they allow or encourage their kids to eat more excessively.
Teaching children not to pile up their plates with too much food can be helpful in regulating meal portion sizes. Encourage kids to chew well and enjoy every bite to avoid binge eating.
Limit sugar-sweetened beverages. Water is the best type of fluid we can offer to our children because it has no caloric value and can create a sense of fullness; thus, decreasing appetite.
Eating together as a family have been found to be a protective factor against obesity. Positive communication during a meal facilitates interaction among family members and can help the children focus their attention to wonderful family meal experiences rather than on consuming excessive food.
Avoid negative talks such as citing how other kids in different parts of the world have difficulty finding food or are dying of hunger. The child could feel pressured to consume more than what his body really needs.
Obesity cannot be detected by merely looking at the child. Regular consultation with your child's primary healthcare provider is necessary in early detection and management of unhealthy weight and other health conditions.
Parental modelling behaviors, both in terms of adequate physical activities and healthful eating, are essential in prevention of obesity. Adequate consumption of well-balanced meal cannot be overemphasized.
In addition, your child could need an individualized plan of care based on thorough assessments of licensed healthcare professionals. Obesity prevention and management may involve a multidisciplinary team (physician, dietitian, behavior therapist, etc.).
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