On my everyday visits to one of the local private schools to pick up my daughter, I have noticed that a lot of the students at the school are overweight for their age. We all know weight is a very sensitive issue that we often don’t want to discuss however it is imperative that I talk about the effects of childhood obesity.
Childhood obesity is one of the most serious global public health challenges of the 21st century, affecting every country in the world. In just 40 years the number of school-age children and adolescents with obesity has risen more than 10-fold, from 11 million to 124 million (2016 estimates).
In addition, an estimated 216 million were classified as overweight but not obese in 2016. These staggering figures are expected to continue rising. There are many factors at play that contribute to the development of childhood obesity. The most important contributor is lifestyle; where too many calories are taken in with very little being burnt.
This is often from poor diet, with a lot of sugar, drinks and processed foods. Children who do not exercise or do lots of physical activity and spend more time watching the television, playing games or computer games are at an increased risk for being overweight.
Another important aspect to consider especially in the young is genetic problems, or hormonal disturbances that can contribute to excessive weight gain. If this is suspected its worthwhile seeing a paediatrician to exclude any underlying problem. Other factors include; coming from a family of overweight people.
Children whose families are overweight either due to a genetic component or due to their lifestyle are also more likely to be overweight. Psychological stress is also a huge risk factor for weight gain and needs to be addressed.
Being overweight or obese has long term physical complications. These children are at risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels and their associated complications. They are also prone to developing bone problems as their bones are not yet fully developed to be able to carry their excess weight and can result in painful or deformed joints.
They are also prone to developing breathing problems and some may even develop asthma. A select few may develop a condition known as obstructive sleep apnoea, which results in breathing difficulties at night. This condition has a lot of negative effects of the body.
We cannot underestimate the psychological impact and the effect on the mental health of these children. They are more prone to teasing and bullying at school. This has a negative effect on their self-esteem. These children are also more likely to develop depression and anxiety.
Childhood obesity can be prevented. We as parents need to set better examples as often children copy what their parents do. It is important to encourage a culture of increased physical activity in home and move away from the sedentary lifestyle. The diet of the whole family also needs to be improved to avoid excess calories. Soft drinks, sugary snacks, sweets and processed foods need to be reduced as much as possible from children’s diets. Preventing childhood obesity will help reduce the risk of children developing all the complications that have been mentioned.