Health Advice

Childhood Obesity – What It Is, & How To Fight Against It

Childhood obesity is one of the most significant and challenging issue in the 21st century globally and in Malaysia, up to 30% of the children were found to be obese or overweight. [1] According to World Health Organisation (WHO), obesity and overweight are defined as abnormal or excess fat accumulation in the body that elevates the risks of health morbidities and even causes mortality. [2]

As children grow, their weight increases as well. Body Mass Index (BMI), is a guideline of weight in relation to height can be used to classify obese or overweight. [3] By using the BMI for age percentiles growth chart from CDC, BMI at or above 85th percentile for children and teens of same age is classified as overweight; BMI at or above 95th percentile for children and teens of same age classified as obese; BMI above 99th percentile classified as severe obesity. [1]

Childhood obesity can be categorized into exogenous obesity and endogenous obesity. Exogenous obesity is due to external factors, causing an imbalance of energy intake and expenditure while endogenous obesity is caused by various genetic, syndromic and endocrine causes. [4] Despite the fact that body fatness can be inherited, environmental influences are more significant in determining body weight because we have the ability to change our environment. There has been a global change in diet toward consuming more energy-dense foods that are poor in vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial micro-nutrients and instead are rich in fat and sugar. Additionally, there is a trend toward lower levels of physical activity as a result of rising urbanization, changing transportation options, and the sedentary style of many leisure activities. [2] Children and adolescents, unlike the majority of adults, are unable to select their living situation or diet. Furthermore, their capacity to comprehend how their actions would affect society in the long run is limited. Therefore, when battling the obesity pandemic, they need special consideration. 👍

Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to remain overweight into adulthood and to develop non-communicable diseases. They are exposed to the following health risks: [5]

  1. Type 2 diabetes mellitus – Children as young as 8 years old might be at risk of getting type 2 diabetes mellitus. Children with obesity might consume high calories and sugar-rich foods, thus increasing T2DM risk.
  2. High blood pressure – As obesity becomes more severe, the risk of high blood pressure rises. Long-term high blood pressure puts stress on the heart.
  3. Liver diseases – Fatty liver disease (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH) is common among children with obesity and this can lead to liver failure.
  4. Heart diseases – Atherosclerosis (narrowing of blood vessels), is a common heart disease that people with obesity might suffer from.

Childhood obesity is largely avoidable, as are the associated noncommunicable diseases. It is acknowledged that prevention is the most practical strategy for halting the pediatric obesity pandemic because present treatment approaches are mostly focused on managing the issue rather than finding a permanent solution. In order to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity, an energy balance must be attained and maintained over the course of a person’s lifetime. Here are some tips to prevent childhood obesity: [1]

  1. Regular exercise—at least an hour a day—helps children to maintain a healthy weight, lowers the health risks associated with obesity, and strengthens their bones and muscles. Children should participate in a range of activities they enjoy, including team sports, swimming, yoga, biking, taking dancing classes, and evening strolls after dinner. A healthy fitness regimen doesn’t have to be challenging. Stretching for increased flexibility and strength training for muscular growth should be part of it. Outdoor activity is especially beneficial for young children in the preschool years.
  2. To consume five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Prepare colorful, healthful foods like tomatoes, broccoli, corn, carrots, potatoes, and green peas to spice up a child’s meals. Instead of juice, promote fresh whole fruits like oranges, starfruit, and watermelon. Besides that, meals with hidden veggies can be prepared for children such as blending vegetables into meat patties or meatballs, to ensure there are vegetables served for picky eaters.
  3. Limit sedentary activities, such as watching videos or playing video games or using the internet, to no more than two hours each day. Besides that, use the stairs instead of the elevator or lift in shopping mall or school to increase physical activity level.
  4. Parents should be involved in and support their child’s activities. Set a reasonable objective that takes into account the child’s preferences and physical capabilities. Keep a chart to record child’s development, and when a goal is reached, give the child praise. Set a positive example by making exercise a family activity.

Healthier Food Swaps

These easy food switch suggestions can help children consume less sugar, salt, and fat. To make each day healthy, even just 1 or 2 small changes each day can make a big effect. But, the more changes they make, the better.

Instead of:Swap to:
Milk chocolateDark chocolate
Cordial drinks with added sugarFresh fruit juices
Sweetened / Flavor yogurtNatural yogurt with added fresh fruits
ChipsNuts (almond, walnut) and seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
Fat cut of poultry / meatLean cut of poultry / meat

References:

Childhood Obesity [Internet]. PORTAL MyHEALTH. 2013 [cited 2023 Jan 25]. Available from: http://www.myhealth.gov.my/en/childhood-obesity/

  1. Childhood Obesity [Internet]. PORTAL MyHEALTH. 2013 [cited 2023 Jan 25]. Available from: http://www.myhealth.gov.my/en/childhood-obesity/
  2. Noncommunicable diseases: Childhood overweight and obesity [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jan 25]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/noncommunicable-diseases-childhood-overweight-and-obesity
  3. Calculate Your BMI – Standard BMI Calculator [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jan 25]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm
  4. Aggarwal B, Jain V. Obesity in Children: Definition, Etiology and Approach. Indian J Pediatr. 2018 Jun;85(6):463–71.
  5. [5] Lee YS. Consequences of Childhood Obesity. 2009;38(1).
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