Health Advice

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

Childhood Obesity - What It Is & How To Fight Against It

Article by: Consultant Dietitian from Beacon Premier Wellness


Childhood obesity – what it is & how to fight against it? It 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]

Example of how sample BMI numbers would be interpreted for a 10-year-old boy.

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] Globally, a shift towards diets comprising more energy-dense foods, which lack essential nutrients and are high in fat and sugar, has occurred. Moreover, reduced physical activity levels have resulted from urbanization, changes in transportation, and sedentary leisure activities.[2] Unlike most adults, children and adolescents lack the autonomy to choose their living conditions or diet. Moreover, their understanding of how their actions impact society in the long term is limited. Hence, special attention is required when addressing the obesity epidemic among this demographic.

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 may be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus. Obesity in children may lead to the consumption of high-calorie and sugar-rich foods, thereby increasing the risk of T2DM.
  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 and its related noncommunicable diseases are largely preventable. Prevention is the most practical strategy, as current treatment approaches primarily focus on management rather than long-term solutions. To combat this epidemic, it’s crucial to achieve and maintain energy balance throughout one’s lifetime. Here are some tips for preventing childhood obesity: [1]

  1. Regular exercise. Children benefit from regular exercise, aiming for at least an hour a day. It helps them maintain a healthy weight, reduces health risks linked with obesity, and strengthens their bones and muscles. Children should actively participate in a variety of enjoyable activities, such as team sports, swimming, yoga, biking, dance classes, and evening walks after dinner. A healthy fitness routine doesn’t require strenuous activities; it should also include stretching for flexibility and strength training for muscle growth. Outdoor activities, in particular, offer significant benefits for preschool-aged children.
  2. To consume five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Encourage the consumption of fresh, whole fruits such as oranges, starfruit, and watermelon over juice. Also, incorporate colorful, healthful foods like tomatoes, broccoli, corn, carrots, potatoes, and green peas to enhance a child’s meals. Additionally, consider incorporating hidden veggies into meals by blending vegetables into meat patties or meatballs to ensure picky eaters receive their vegetables.
  3. Limit sedentary activities, such as watching videos, playing video games, or using the internet, to no more than two hours each day. Additionally, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator or lift in shopping malls or schools to increase physical activity levels.
  4. Parents should be involved in and support their child’s activities, such as watching videos, playing video games, or using the internet, to no more than two hours each day. Additionally, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator or lift in shopping malls or schools to increase physical activity levels.

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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