Childhood Obesity: Causes and Prevention

Introduction

Childhood obesity is a major health issue that has emerged in today’s world. Be it a developed country or a developing country, this problem has spread like an epidemic. This is a very serious issue and many parents are still not aware about the seriousness of this issue. Throughout the history, the weight gain in children is considered a good sign and they believe their kids to be healthy. Because many parents still think that a thin child to be not healthy, while fat and chubby kids are considered to be good. However, this concept is very wrong because a child is healthy not by weight but by being active.

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As the society is developing, the living standards are rising and so the problem of obesity and weight gain in kids too is rising, many researches have proved that if a child is obese then the threat of him getting ill or developing serious diseases. Since children are considered to be the future of a nation so this problem poses a threat to the whole nation. Child hood obesity is related to development of heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and even cancer in later years in life. This increasing trend of obesity in children is also an indicator of fast emerging health problems in the societies. One of the major issues in assessing the magnitude of the problem is that there are no uniform criteria or definition of the problem. Although many attempts have been done and doctors are still doing research on the topic and a general agreement over the issue has not been established.

“WHO” recommends the use of both BMI- for- age and skinflods- for- age. The results of these two are indicative of childhood obesity but still there has to be a simple and universally accepted definition of childhood obesity. Now the, first question that arises in this context is how to diagnose obesity and what information do we have regarding this problem. This lack of consistency between studies and obesity classification tends us to look at the emerging trend of childhood obesity both in developing as well as the developed countries. It is however, more common in the urban than in rural areas and in more economically advanced regions. The rate of obesity is high in developed countries as compared to the developing countries. The second question that arises in this issue is whether child obesity matters. We all know that obesity in adults is a well-recognized risk for several life threatening diseases as well as premature death. Now, the most important long-term consequence of childhood obesity is that the child is most likely to develop obesity in later life and thus increasing the risk of these life-threatening diseases. Besides developing these health problems in an adult may lead to other physiological effects such as social discrimination and social stigma. This is due to the notion that many people still think that obese individual is ugly and unwanted. The third question regarding this issue is why obesity has become such an increasing problem in children. The answer to this question may be defined in terms of energy imbalance. Both the dietary and physical activities pattern have changed in today’s modern era. Due to the sedentary lifestyles of modern societies the physical activities have become very less. The most common example is the time spent by children in television, cooking, playing on the computer, or talking on the telephone etc. The other cause of this problem is increasing consumption of high fat and high sugar foods. The increasing anxiety of parents and their unnecessarily pampering of children are also leading children to reduced physical activity and increasing obesity

Causes of Childhood Obesity

The problem of childhood obesity is fast emerging as a major problem. This problem starts in children as early as two years and it is more common in the children of age group of 8-12 years. Developing countries are also facing this problem.

The main reasons for the childhood obesity are:

  1. Overfeeding of the babies: When a child is breast-fed he takes less milk and decides his own intake of food. However, nowadays with prsence of more working mothers, babies are bottle-fed. In addition, it is established that a bottle-fed child takes more feed than the breast-fed baby. The excessive milk intake in small babies contributes towards obesity. Such children up to the age of two year are found to be obese.
  2. Commercial baby foods: These days many commercial baby foods are available in the market. The foods are marketed in such a manner that parents are lured to feed the child in order to provide him healthy and nourished food. All the commercial baby food tastes good and is available in various flavors in the market. However, if consumed in excess quantity and for a longer period can lead to obesity. Therefore, it is advisable for mothers to prepare more homemade foods for the babies.
  3. Eating of excess junk foods: We can say that the main source of obesity in kids is due to the increased consumption of the junk foods, which is being heavily marketed by the media, and they are especially targeted for children. After watching those adds the child forces his parents to buy these items as a result the child misses regular meals. All the junk food products like chocolates, wafers, chips, burgers, colas etc., are so tempting that the child keeps munching them and always demands for such foods. Most of these items are high on calories but they lack the important nutrients like, vitamins, iron, calcium etc. According to research done by, ‘Bruce Silverglade’, legal director of the Washington, D.C. based Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Pepsi and cola are only aggravating the problem.These drinks are very bad for kids and major cause of obesity. ‘Jared Fogle’ is trying to spread awareness about the issue ,by meeting parents ,telling them the right food options ,but all this will take some time.
  4. Many social factors: Due to the increasing per capita income, the culture of eating out or parting has increased. Be it school or home parties have become an important aspect of one’s day to day life. In schoolchildren celebrates birthday by distributing sweets. Elders celebrate by going outside, partying and eating fast foods. The choice and taste of people have changed. According to the, “ journal of American dietetic association in 1999”, better taste, ready availability, reasonable cost and more convenient, were the reasonable cost and more convenient were the reasons quoted by the adolescent American.
  5. Lifestyles: As we, all know children always copy their parents. Therefore, the reason behind obesity in children largely depends on their parents also. In many families, the eating pattern is such that more food containing high fats are consumed. High sugar foods and desserts are regular fare. In many families both the
  6. Television or Computer: They are so many tempting programmes on TV and Computer that nowadays children prefer to sit at home and watch TV or play game on computer rather than go outside and play. The children are becoming’ couch potatoes’ rather than play outdoors. All this leads to the problem of poor vision, poor academic performance, obesity, and lack of self-confidence
  7. Lack of physical activity: A major cause of obesity is that today children are so busy they have no time for physical activities.without any physical activity the calories eaten are accumulated in the body as fat which contribute to obesity.

Preventive Measures to Control Child Obesity

Now we will discuss the preventive measures to control child obesity.

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The three preventive approaches that one can use in dealing with the problem:

  1. Family oriented
  2. School oriented
  3. Primary care based intervention

In family based approach the sedentary lifestyles and eating habits of families are targeted. Children always follow what the parents eat so the eating pattern must be changed. According to survey done on childhood obesity conducted by, “ the Consumer Reports National Research Center” found that:

Nine out of 10 parents knew that childhood obesity is a problem in the United States but when asked about their own kids they fail to recognize the problem. In school based approach ,schools are targeted to encourage children to play more outdoor games and indulge in outdoor activities even after school.

In primary care based intervention they are targeted to prevent the onset of obesity in children from a very early stage by spreading awareness and giving proper advice to the parents. So we can say to prevent obesity one should avoid excessive use of commercial baby food, fast food, colas. Sale of junk food through schools should be regulated and more outdoors activities should be encouraged.excessive eating out in joints such as, KFC McDonalds, burger king etc should be avoided.

Inspite of child obesity being on the national health objectives the problem is increasing day by day.According to figures from “international obesity task force,WHO figure 2002”,Samoa has the highest worldwide rate of childhood obesity at 74%,U.S.A at 34% and China at 2%.According to , “center of disease control and prevention” over the past two decades this problem has been doubled in pre school children (aged-5 yrs) and in children of age group(6-19) yrs this problem has been more than tripled. According to , “prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescent, united states, 1992,(oct6,2004)”, more 15% of the children are at the risk of being obese. In addition, according to “united states department of health and human services” overweight adolescence have 70% chance of becoming overweight adults.

Conclusion

Thus we can say that childhood obesity has emerged as a very serious problem and posing a great medical threat to the world as those problem can lead to many serious health problems later in life. This issue should be properly addressed and all the preventive measures should be taken with the help of families ,school and health professionals.If a child is obese he should consult a doctor and devise a proper plan of action on diet and exercise regime. Besides all these, there should be a parallel and simple programme to target this problem.

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