BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Childhood Overweight and Obesity



Everyone continues to talk about under-nutrition, starvation, malnutrition and lack of food supplies in developing nations and regions in conflict. However, there is little or no conversation around the exponential increase in the number of obese children. This is not much of a surprise as overweight is the other face of the nutrition problem common in developing nations like Canada and the US particularly in minority groups. Just to give you an insight into the depth of this problem; the number of overweight and obese children has quadrupled since the 90s in Canada and little has been done about it as the situation is even worse in the US with 1 in 4 children currently overweight. As if this is not enough, many of these children continue into adulthood remaining overweight and obese worsening the obesity epidemic. As we know, obesity whether in childhood or adulthood is not a disease in itself however, it predisposes a child to a whole lot of problems including NCDs like:

  • Hypertension and cardiovascular diseases
  • Diabetes mellitus and it’s complications
  • COPD, obstructive sleep panda and other respiratory issues
  • Arthritis and other musculoskeletal problems

In addition to the above health risks, there are social implications of childhood obesity. Most times, these children tend to be mocked, bullied and teased a lot leading to psychosocial problems such as depression, poor self-esteem and anxiety disorders. And of course, those with poor coping mechanisms and weak support systems can engage in violence, drug addiction and even more overfeeding detrimental to themselves and the society. The natural question that follows is: What can be done to address this problem? Well, there‚Äôs a lot but we have to first understand the factors that are responsible. It is not difficult to see why diet is an important factor; the more you eat, the more likely you are to grow fatter though this is rather too simplistic as some diets like high energy, carbohydrate and trans fat diet are more likely to make one fat than fruits and vegetables. The increase in snacks, sweet and sugary products partly account for the increasing rate of obesity in children. However, that is not full piece of the puzzle; the increasing sedentary lifestyle due to technological advancements is another important factor. Children spend most of their time on TV, video games or with their mobile phones or laptops surfing the internet, they don’t burn off their extra calories which leads to weight gain. These two factors, diet and physical inactivity remain the major focus of most interventions in childhood overweight and obesity.

There are three groups of interventions:  government, population and community based interventions. Government interventions can include dedicated investment in health promotion by using food policies like import tariffs and taxes on unhealthy foods and subsidies on healthy foods. Additionally, policies to incorporate teaching the importance of good diet and physical activity on health are effective. Population wide policies include traffic light labelling of products, restriction in television advertising of snacks, drinks rich in sugar and trans-fat as exemplified by Denmark, increased provision of fruits and vegetables to school canteens, provision of school playgrounds and incorporating exercise in daily school schedule. These interventions should involve key stakeholders in the community and tailored to fit into the culture and organisation of the community to ensure high level of participation and success.

Finally, there’s actually so much parents can do for their overweight or obese children, although it still revolves around better diet and physical activity. Parents may have to restrict their child’s intake of sugary or high carb foods. It is also important to start at an early age to always make fruits and vegetables available as well as keep snacks away from the house since feeding habits are formed at an early age. Also you may want to go for a walk on evenings or on weekends if you’re busy which not only increases physical activity but also gives you enough bonding time. Children should be encouraged to engage in other forms of leisure aside from watching TV and playing video games. Outdoor sports like football, running and some time out with friends are great ways to pass time and would help in better social development for your child.

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