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Obese or even overweight children are more prone to becoming obese adults. And obese adults are surrounded by a host of health issues. Unlike an asthma attack or diarrhoea, which signal the need for doctor-intervention, obesity doesn’t give out strong signals of health that is at stake. It slowly builds up and tags with it a variety of health concerns.

For instance, Obesity Service in Children’s Health in Ireland says, liver disease is one of the silent and distressing conditions linked to childhood obesity. Cardiovascular diseases, insulin resistance, musculoskeletal disorders, hormonal issues, some cancers are ailments that slowly start building.

According to the 2016 report of WHO, 41 million children under the age of 5 were obese. Over 340 million children & adolescents were either overweight or obese.

When we look deep into the causes of overweight & obesity in children across the world, apart from genetic & environmental factors, unhealthy eating patterns and a sedentary lifestyle, right from the beginning are the culprits.

A healthy lifestyle renders a healthy body essentially cutting out most of the illnesses. Here are a few tips for parents.

1. Food

Parents must be watchful of the food their child consumes. A child might have eaten to capacity, which doesn’t mean they have had nutritious food. Kids tend to like ultra-processed foods such as pastries, refined grain products, sugared drinks which are low in nutritional value. But the family has to consciously choose what they offer the kids.

As a family, together, everybody can start eating healthier, making it a habit. If you have children at home who show signs of overweight & obesity, ensure you do mindful eating, keep track of the portions & set an example to self-monitor the intake.

Small things like eating together, eating slowly and helping them enjoy the food, and develop a healthy & positive attitude towards food can make a world of difference to the kids.

2. Lifestyle/Activity

Modern-day kids have a rather sedentary lifestyle. They are naturally hooked to television or electronic gadgets and do not get enough physical exercise. Although reading, drawing, cracking puzzles also do not involve physical activity, the kids here relatively expend energy, mentally. Also, a majority of the advertisements for unhealthy foods entice and allure them into buying/and consuming them.

To prevent weight gain, diagnosing and treating it sooner is essential. Without emphasizing on the weight of the kid, parents have to encourage their physical activity. Staying active doesn’t just manage the weight, but also enhances health.

3. Sleep

Sleep time is another crucial factor. Researches show adequate sleep is essential in early childhood for ideal weight gain and to control weight in later childhood. A study conducted in Italy between 2016-17 reported that regular sleep schedule decreases obesity risks in both children & adults. Children aged 5-9 years with unhealthy eating habits and who sleep for less than 10 hours, run a two-fold risk of turning obese compared to the kids who sleep for longer hours.

The study further indicates, sleep irregularities influence eating habits & physical activity, both of which contribute to obesity. Sleep-deprived individuals do not expend as much energy as their fully rested peers, rendering them less active & leading to weight gain. Sleep cycles also influence physiological factors such as hormonal imbalances, which can add to weight gain. It is imperative that parents monitor children’s sleep cycles and work towards optimizing it.

Apart from these, it is important to carefully watch kids for their behavioral & emotional stability, which could lead to binge eating and other eating-related disorders. These which start as mere untimely cravings might turn into addictions if left unmonitored.

Once children go onto the severely obese category, it could become an irreversible situation without the assistance of bariatric surgery. The sooner parents understand this and make kids realize this, the easier it is to tackle.