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Addressing Childhood Obesity with Prompt Nourishment

Contemporary parents are extra careful about their child, hence living super demanding parenthood. They are trying to balance hectic schedules and their children’s responsibilities. Sometimes in the chase of meeting their professional and personal deadlines, they miss fully looking after their little one’s physical, dietary, mental, and emotional needs wholeheartedly. Parents’ daily devotional dedicated time is getting replaced by short-term materialistic comforts. This is giving children a momentary spike of happiness, a severely sedentary life, unhealthy eating patterns, poor lifestyle, and low quality of life. Slowly and silently cumulatively these health abusing practices are pushing children and their innocent childhood toward obesity and its, associated harmful complications.

What is childhood or juvenile obesity?

It occurs when a child has too much body fat and weight, higher than the recommended weight for his or her height. A common measurement tool to estimate a child’s appropriate weight is the body mass index (BMI) scale. Childhood obesity is a serious health threat which continues into obese adulthood. Its spread has reached 124 million worldwide, and nearly one in five children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Obesity in early life is of concern due to health consequences and its influence on later life. Increased fat levels are strongly associated with developing metabolic disorders and signs of adverse cardiac diseases. The severity of these comorbidities typically increases with the severity of obesity.

Nutritional factors that cause childhood obesity

Nutritional status and practised diets are one of the most important causes of the increase in obesity in children and adolescents.

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Change in current food pattern compared to earlier times

Earlier diets and modern-day diets are completely different from each other. The most important differences are low fruit and vegetable content, high energy and fat content and lack of essential nutrients.

Also, there is an increase in inhabited life, less physical play, unlimited virtual play and screen gazing, and easy access to processed foods leading to serious changes in body composition and an increase in the prevalence of obesity in children.

Makeover of available foods options

Today, the foods served in restaurants and cafes are high in energy, salt, sugar, and fat content, and low in crucial nutrients. Also, there is a lucrative addition of a child menu including high portion size, various fast foods, snacks, and sweets, irrespective of the energy needs of children remain constant.

Inability to manage energy intake

Children are insufficient to control their food cravings and energy intake. They cannot understand hunger and satiety feelings. Children learn by observing their surroundings, food intake in large portions pushes them to eat large portions of food. It is also found that as the energy intake increases the obesity rate increases and as vegetable consumption increases fibre intake increases, the obesity rate decreases.

Nutritional behaviours of the family

Family-related factors like the number of members, the presence of siblings, and the parent’s nutrition habits affect the health of the child. If parents follow unhealthy dietary behaviours, this provokes children to pursue the same. The fact that either or both parents of a child is/are obese is a sign that the child will also tend to become obese. As per scientific reports, consumption of vegetables and fruits significantly increases when parents set an example in front of their children. Factors, such as eating together meals, number of meals, and mealtime also affect childhood obesity. Studies report that children who consume meals together with their family eat healthier. Grandparents also have an important effect on children’s nutritional status and behaviours and physical activity levels.

Food options that are kept at home

The presence of unhealthy, energy-rich, and low nutritious foods at home causes children to consume more of this type of food and develop inadequate nutritional habits over the years in future. Keeping unhealthy foods at home decreases vegetable and fruit consumption.

Maternal nutritional status during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Mothers’ obesity and excess fat accumulation during pregnancy and lactation sometimes increase the risk of obesity in their infants, toddlers, and children if dietary habits are not kept under check.

Erratic lifestyle

Inadequate activity and too many calories from food and drinks are undeniably the key contributors to childhood obesity. Besides, staying till late at night and spending too much time on mobile devices and TV directly affect the basal metabolic rate which leads to obesity-related problems.

What are the alarming signs of obesity?

The main distressing symptoms are excess, extreme unexplained routine tiredness sweating and increased heart rate. The presence of all these is a serious concern and urges immediate doctor’s consultation.

Consequences of obesity

Excess weight and obesity are not only natural weight health conditions initially, but gradually with ignorance, they get bigger, and the associated complications become more prominent. If the rapid increase in body weight is detected timely then, it can be reversed. A lack of attention and ignorance leads the problem to grow into a more significant concern. If not controlled well within time, obesity can lead to drastic consequences, like high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic diseases. Apart from these, obese children are also exposed to several psychological disorders like depression and lower self-confidence. This hinders their social life, drops their self-esteem, and negatively impacts their academic growth as well.

Dietary and lifestyle interventions

Obesity can be controlled as well as treated, with simple lifestyle changes. It all sums up to following certain rules and sticking to a routine in a disciplined manner. A multifaced attitude that focuses on diet and health-related activities provides the most sustainable and beneficial effects on childhood obesity intervention, rather than single-component interventions.

  • As parents first start following a healthy disciplined lifestyle and eating a balanced diet
  • Add more fresh fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, high-quality protein, and good fat sources to the diet
  • Set an example in front of the child and motivate them to develop the same behaviour
  • Educate children about good nutritious dietary pattern and their long-term benefits
  • Never skip meals and eat at least one meal of the day together
  • Avoid digital distractions during mealtime and use it as a time to talk and exchange thoughts
  • Don’t add any new food or drastic meal choices suddenly. Incorporate changes slowly and steadily
  • Balance healthy and not-so-healthy foods in dietary pattern
  • Do physical activity together and make it a highly enjoyable time, so that children look towards it
  • Fix screen time and offer them more interesting brainstorming physical and mental activities
  • Adjust portion sizes appropriately for age
  • Supervise and provide enough rest and sleep to the child
  • Limit consumption of frequent processed high fatty, sugary and salty foods
  • Include children while searching and preparing healthy recipes routinely
  • Inspire them to drink adequate water and healthy fluids
  • Inspire the child to track healthy eating habits and observe their positive effects on health

Conclusion

Prevention is crucial to reduce, if not stop, obesity in children. It should include a reduction in excess unhealthy energy intake, behaviour modification, and family involvement to encourage increased physical activity and reduced sedentary habits. Awareness of the long-term health complications of obesity is mandatory. It can be provided through better nutrition education at home as well as in school. Food management and increased physical activity must be encouraged, promoted, and prioritized to protect children.

Close monitoring of the weight and height of the child will help early recognition and timely intervention of obesity. Dietary management and increased physical activity throughout the day are essential. Food habits need moderate and steady tweaking with the inclusion of a variety of foods. This will lay the base for lifelong healthy eating practices.

Learning about the right food choices at home from parents will have an immense influence on the food selections done at school, restaurants, and get-togethers. The focus needs to be shifted from forcefully instigating impractical health advice in a child’s life to correcting the pivotal causes of obesity.

References

  1. J Obes Metab Syndr 2019;28:225-235
  2. Gen Med Open, 2018; Volume 2(4): 1-5
  3. Childhood Obesity – A Rising Problem | K.R. Mangalam Blog (krmangalam.com)
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5572769
  5. J Clin Res Ped Endo 2008;1(2):53–60

Author

Aparna Das Parmar

Aparna Parmar has over 8.5 years of rich experience in the field of nutrition and healthcare and is currently a corporate nutritionist.

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