Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. The problem is global and is steadily affecting many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. The prevalence has increased at an alarming rate. Globally, in 2016, the number of overweight children under the age of five, is estimated to be over 41 million. Almost half of all overweight children under five lived in Asia and one quarter lived in Africa.
Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood, and are more likely to develop noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. Overweight and obesity, as well as their related diseases, are largely preventable. Prevention of childhood obesity therefore needs high priority.
Not all children carrying extra pounds are overweight or obese. Some children have larger than average body frames. Children normally carry different amounts of body fat at the various stages of development, so you might not know just by looking at your child if weight is a health concern.
The body mass index (BMI), which provides a guideline of weight in relation to height, is the accepted measure of overweight and obesity. Lifestyle issues, such as too little activity and too many calories from food and drinks, such as sugary drinks and processed foods, are the main contributors to childhood obesity. However, genetic and hormonal factors might play a role as well.
Childhood obesity can have complications for your child’s physical, social and emotional well-being. The complications may include diabetes, asthma, sleep disorders, among others.
As parents, ensure that you take the necessary measures to protect the health of your children. Limit your child’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Provide plenty of fruits and vegetables and eat meals as a family as often as possible. Also limit eating out, especially at fast-food restaurants. When eating, make sure you adjust portion sizes appropriately for age, limit TV and other screen time, and ensure that your child is active.
Dr. Rosmond Adams, MD is a medical doctor and a public health specialist with training in bioethics and ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research. He is a lecturer of Medical Ethics.
He is the Head of Health Information, Communicable Disease and Emergency Response at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). He is also a member of the World Health Organization Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.
(The views expressed here are not written on behalf of CARPHA nor the WHO). You may contact him at [email protected]