Childhood Obesity - The Silent Menace

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According to the Australian parenting website, 'Raising Children Network', health problems associated with childhood obesity are so severe, that there are concerns the current generation of parents in Australia will outlive their children!

Childhood obesity is a condition used to describe the excessive amount of body fat in children which negatively affects their well-being or health. The diagnosis of obesity is based on the calculation of the Body Mass Index (BMI) which is a scale that defines healthy, overweight, and obese weight ranges.

Why obesity?

Unhealthy Food

Eating junk food that is high on calories and low on nutrition has become common these days. Junk food is cheap, convenient, and tasty. Fast-food chains entice kids with 'happy meals' and popular toys. They spend millions of dollars in advertising each year, with children being their main target audience. In today's fast-paced world where time is at a premium and both parents work outside the home, picking up food 'on the go' as opposed to cooking a meal from scratch, becomes an easy option. The more junk the kids eat, the more they get addicted to it.

Sedentary lifestyle

There was a time when zooming around on bicycles, playing soccer and baseball in the neighborhood park, and climbing trees was an integral part of childhood joy. Today, most children prefer staying indoors - playing video games and watching TV, the only part of their body getting exercise being their fingers moving on the remote!

Parents are in some measure to be blamed for the inactive lifestyle of kids. Too busy working or catching up on household chores, they have no time to organize family walks in the park or weekend treks. Security concerns, too, dissuade parents from sending their kids outdoors and lack of time makes the family drive around instead of walking short distances.

Genetics

Genetics when combined with environmental factors could predispose children to obesity. It is more likely that kids of parents who are obese will turn out to become obese too, especially when their calorie-intake is high.

Stress and Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem, bullying at school, stress related to academics, etc. could induce a child to binge eating. This, in turn, could lead to obesity.

Problems:

Studies say obese kids are more likely to become obese adults. Obesity can lead to dangerous health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, skin infections, infertility, respiratory problems, liver disease, cancer, sleep disorders like sleep apnea, and eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Also, obese kids often become targets for teasing. Constant bullying results in poor body image, low self-confidence, depression, and eating disorders.

How to prevent obesity?

- Parents need to inculcate in kids, early on in childhood, the importance of eating nutritious low-calorie food on an everyday basis. Junk food should be treated as an occasional indulgence.

- Parents should promote an active lifestyle. Whenever possible, for shorter distances, walk instead of driving. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. On weekends for a family outing, organize a walk in the park, bike rides in the neighborhood, or other physical activities.

- Set a limited time each day for zero-exercise activities like playing video games and watching Television.

- Parents need to ensure that they practice what they preach. Before lecturing the child, they have to become good role models for healthy and active living.

Once obesity sets in, reversing it becomes a difficult task. Hence, it makes sense to take care and prevent what could potentially become a life-threatening condition.

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