It was my day off from work and I decided to visit the mall with Zainab. I sat quietly waiting for my friend for our 5 pm appointment. Being a stickler for time, I had arrived some 45 minutes earlier. I chose to sit at the food court along the major walkway to have a clearer view of the environment and observe when she walks in.
I watched as several families sauntered in and out of the mall. Something profound was staring at my face; out of every 4 children, 2 were clearly overweight. They struggled to move with overstretched shorts and protruding stomachs while clutching cones and bowls of ice-cream.
Childhood obesity is a condition where excess body fat negatively affects a child’s health or well-being. One-third of the children in the USA are overweight/obsessed. All over the world, the number of obese children has more than doubled in the past 3 years. Of the 40 million obese children in the world, 81% are from developing nation (WHO data). In Nigeria, there is a paucity of data. However, according to a research by Senbayo I O, out of 270 children surveyed from 216 homes, 13.7% were overweight and 5.2% obese.
Several causative factors of childhood obesity have been identified by health experts. Some of these factors include;
Lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating pattern, unhealthy diet, genetics, body type, maternal smoking, early introduction to solids, use of infant formula as against exclusive breastfeeding and early day-care attendance. (creche)
Suffice it to say that out of these 9 factors listed above, the major culprits are Lack of physical activity, unhealthy diet, and feeding pattern. We do not have control over genetics and body type, however, this should equally be controlled.
The economic realities of our age have ushered women more and more in the corporate world hence, for women in the corporate society, exclusive breastfeeding for an upward of 4 months is a difficult feat to achieve. Causing them to opt for creches where infant formula can be dropped off.
The effects of childhood obesity are grave hence the need to battle its scourge. Some effects include:
- Psychological; this may be the biggest effect on the child. Often times, he/she is teased, jeered at or taunted by peers. There is also general discrimination, an exclusion from games etc. leading to low self-esteem, depression, and stress.
- Physical; the child is predisposed to diabetes, High Blood Pressure, cancer, sleep problems, liver disease and early puberty (In this age of child molestation, I bet you don’t want that).
- Long-term effects; an obese child will be an obese adult with a high risk of a heart disease among.
We have been told not to use the word ‘obese’ for children rather ‘overweight’ to avoid stigmatization. But we must call it if that will motivate parents to help their children.
Both the upper class and lower class are most predisposed to have obese children.
The upper class because of the high consumption of highly processed foods (burger, ice-cream pizza, noodles) and the lower class consuming starchy food (garri, fufu, bread).
I will proffer very simple solution for parents who have kids struggling with obesity
Ensure you enroll your children in schools with a good playground. Also, reduce the number of hours spent on extra lessons. Where necessary, trek instead of driving.
Reduce TV and video game time. Rather introduce cycling, football and other outdoor games for children.
Introduce healthy diet in the home. Encourage your kids to drink just water.
Avoid surgery drinks, processed drinks, and caffeinated ones too. Ice-creams and other processed food should be taken occasionally and should never be taken in place of meals. Employ the services of a dietitian if need be.
Be involved in your children’s workout routine. Avoid insulting the child as it will make him withdraw heightening depression.
As much as your routine can take, exclusive breastfeeding remains the best available option for a newborn. Avoid smoking during pregnancy and lactation.
NEVER abuse, insult or discriminate against an obese child!
Conclusively, childhood obesity on a geometric increase. Parents want to give their children all the ‘good things’ they never had while growing up. However, before you buy the bowl of ice-cream or box of chocolates for your kids, ask yourself “IS THIS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY?”
Remember, an obese child is often an obese adult.