According to the World Health Organization, 39 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2020. No kids stuff, this is a serious concern! However, obesity and being overweight are preventable. Nutritionist and specialist in Infant nutrition, Dalia, explains the causes and 6 convenient tips for the parents on prevention of childhood obesity.
Why is child obesity a serious concern?
- As mentioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who have obesity will more likely suffer from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In addition, there is an increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea.
- Moreover, overweight and obesity have a major impact on how children feel about themselves. And they may have lower self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Additionally, overweight and obese children are more likely to remain obese as adolescents and adults.
The fundamental cause of childhood obesity and overweight is an increased intake of energy-dense foods high in fats and sugars.
- decreased physical activity due to increased sedentary lifestyle
- lack of supportive policies to implement a healthy lifestyle
also contributes to obesity in children.
Studies found that children from families with obese parents were at a significantly higher risk of obesity compared to children of normal-weight parents. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to childhood obesity. The environmental factors that play a major role in childhood obesity include screen time, physical activity, stress, socioeconomic status, food security, and a child’s sleep duration.
How important is parental involvement in managing childhood obesity?
“Parental support is essential in dealing with childhood obesity, and modelling a healthy lifestyle can make a huge difference. And as we know children learn by imitating their parents.”
For example, suppose the parents spend their time watching TV or scrolling the phone without being involved in any sports. Such parents motivating their kids to engage with sports will not work; because most of the time, a child models the parent. Hence, the child may resist physical activity and even start spending more time on screen in this case. Another example can be if the food cooked at home is usually unhealthy with excess fats and sugars, this will affect the children’s choices, so making junk food less available will hugely help.
Following are a few tips for parents on childhood obesity prevention:
1. Practise and teach healthy eating habits
Mother teaching toddler daughter healthy eating habits
Healthy eating habits are of paramount priority in childhood obesity prevention because eating the wrong foods is the chief cause of obesity! So, to teach healthy eating habits in children, parents need to adjust their eating behaviours, choose healthier choices, eat a variety of food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, meat, poultry, fish) in moderation. You can also buy more fruits and vegetables and make them visible and easy to reach for the child.
Moreover, parents should watch out for cues; for example, what makes your child crave such foods? Is it the advertisement he/she saw on television that was directed to children? If yes, try to make it out of sight and out of mind. Or is it because the child stays hungry for a long time, so craves energy-rich foods? Again, if yes, consciously provide a healthy snack between meals.
2. Encourage physical activity
Physical activity is crucial for growing children, and hence, parents should help children engage in physical activities. You can make outdoor activities part of your daily family routines, such as taking family walks, gardening, cycling, cleaning, swimming, hiking, jogging, and many other group activities.
Typically, children and adolescents aged 6 to 17 years should do 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each day. (3 days activities that strengthen bone such as running or jumping and 3 days activities that build muscles like climbing).
In addition to making physical activity fun, setting a schedule for screen time can help limit the hours spent on the phone or computer.
How to know if your child has adequate physical activity?
To know if your child is doing moderate aerobic activity, you can use a scale from 0 to 10. If his/her physical activity falls within 5 or 6 and their heart is beating faster than when they are at rest, they are doing moderate-intensity exercise. For example, walking to school is a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. On the other hand, they probably do vigorous-intensity activity when they play hide and seek at the playground (running and chasing others).
So, assist your child to play a variety of sports and games. Encourage them to be creative and plan games of their own so that playtime becomes more fun than a chore.
3. Early weaning in infants lead to obesity in their growing years
Young mother starting on healthy solid foods for her infant
Many studies show that early weaning leads to rapid weight gain during infancy, which may have implications for childhood obesity, highlighting the importance of exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months and breastfeeding in a combination of solid food up to 2 years.
In addition, mothers should adhere to responsive feeding (mother responding to her baby’s signs of hunger and fullness) to prevent rapid weight gain. Also, providing healthy choices for babies when weaning helps them maintain a healthy weight during childhood, especially when parents limit added sugar before the age of 2 years.
4. Be aware that stress contributes to childhood obesity
Stress is another important aspect of childhood obesity prevention. Stress due to academic pressure and intense competition influences obesity in children. Studies show that chronic changes in cortisol (stress hormone) secretion may have additional effects on cognitive and emotional development, the timing of puberty and final stature.
Also, stress affects behaviour by inducing overeating and consuming high caloric foods, fats, and sugars. Further, stress can lead to shortening sleep and decreasing physical activity. Also, when children are obese and overweight, they get stuck in the vicious cycle of distress, impairing self-image, leading to additional stress that might lead to eating disorders.
Read here to know Five Simple Tips To Manage Stress
5. A sense of discipline reduces the risk of childhood obesity
Mother enforcing sleep routine in her toddler son
Yes, it is true. Scheduling meals, sleep, and activities time can help in reducing the risk of obesity in children. Generally, young children need 3 meals a day with healthy snacks in between. Therefore, snacks should be scheduled in a way children can eat every 2-3 hours. Besides, sleeping for 9-12 hours at night is essential for optimal physical and mental growth. And 1 hour of physical activity on a daily basis.
Read here: Ayurveda Way Of Living – Your FAQs Answered
6. Regular visits to the paediatrician
Finally, routine visits to the paediatrician help parents know if their child has a healthy weight or not, and a paediatric dietitian can help them maintain, lose or gain weight. Besides, the doctor can analyse the causes of childhood obesity and educate parents on assisting the child in managing a healthy weight.
Childhood obesity is not about looks alone; it increases the risk of various lifestyle conditions, including cardiovascular diseases. Hence, parents should take great care in devising their child’s nutrition. Also, educating the child about healthy food choices and encouraging them to make physical activities a constant will positively impact their health and maintain a healthy weight.
Edited by love4wellness | Images: canva.com