Are parents at fault for childhood obesity?

Why is Childhood Obesity Considered a Health Problem?

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1. Children with obesity can be bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers. They are also more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem. The effects of this can last into adulthood. According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, “Rather than motivate positive change, this stigma contributes to behaviours such as binge eating, social isolation, avoidance of health care services, decreased physical activity and increased weight gain, which worsen obesity and create additional barriers to healthy behaviour change.”

2. Children with obesity are at higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is increasingly being reported among children who are overweight. Onset of diabetes in children can lead to heart disease and kidney failure.

3. Children with obesity also have more risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure and high cholesterol than their normal weight peers. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, almost 60% of children who were overweight had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), and 25% had two or more CVD risk factors.

4. Children with obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults. This can lead to lifelong physical and mental health problems. Adult obesity is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancers.


The South African reality is alarming

Childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions and South Africa is not immune. With an estimated 1 in 5 South African children being either overweight or obese, it is not surprising that diabetes is on the increase. Poor diet and a lack of exercise are the main culprits and many parents are failing to provide the right combination of diet and exercise for their children.

In a 2012 research study consisting of 1 200 parents, 67% of parents use sugary treats, takeaways and fizzy drinks to encourage their children to curb their bad behaviour and only 7% gave their child some fruit as a reward for being good. Two-fifths admit to plying their children with chocolate and sweets and 22% feed their kids crisps in a bid to keep them in check.

Nearly half of parents also revealed that they use junk food as a form of ‘bribery’, which enabled them to control their child’s behaviour by promising they would receive a treat as a result.

Unhealthy food is not only affecting children’s weight, certain foods and drinks can make children and teenagers more vulnerable to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. A recent study on the various factors that can trigger depression and anxiety found that people who drank four or more cups of fizzy drinks or sweetened fruit drinks a day, had a much higher risk for depression. The study also found that excessive amounts of caffeine from fizzy drinks, energy drinks, or coffee drinks can trigger anxiety in children and teenagers and may also aggravate feelings of depression when the caffeine wears off.

So if parents know that healthy eating can stabilise children’s energy, sharpen their minds, and improve their moods, then what steps can they take to improve the mental and physical health of their children?

Don’t use sweet treats to reward children

Doing this teaches our children that healthy food, such as vegetables are less appealing because consuming them requires a reward. Desert should not be the prize.

Don’t insist that children “clean their plate”

Healthy children generally eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, based on their natural internal cues. Encouraging them to eat past the point of fullness will affect these natural cues and result in over-eating, as they grow older. In fact recent studies show that all children eat more when they are served larger portions.

Don’t deprive your children of all sweets

Studies from Penn State University have found that when kids are completely restricted from eating sweets, biscuits, or other unhealthy snack foods, their desire to eat these increases, and they’re likely to overeat them every chance they get.



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