By: Nutrition expert- Vidula Kozarekar, Mumbai.
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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 5 lived in Asia and one quarter lived in Africa (1).
Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop non-communicable 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 (1).
Consequences of Obesity in children:
- Children who have obesity are more likely to have- (2-8)
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
- Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
- Breathing problems, such as asthma and sleep apnea.
- Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort.
- Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (i.e., heartburn).
- Childhood obesity is also related to- (9-11)
- Psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
- Low self-esteem and lower self-reported quality of life.
- Social problems such as bullying and stigma.
Future health risks: (12, 13, 14)
- Children who have obesity are more likely to become adults with obesity.
- Adult obesity is associated with increased risk of several serious health conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
- If children have obesity, their obesity and disease risk factors in adulthood are likely to be more severe.
Prevention of childhood obesity: (15)
For infants and young children, WHO recommends:
- Early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth;
- Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life; and
- The introduction of nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods at 6 months together with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.
School-aged children and adolescents should:
- Limit energy intake from total fats and sugars;
- Increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, as well as legumes, whole grains and nuts;
- Engage in regular physical activity (60 minutes a day).
The food industry can play a significant role in reducing childhood obesity by:
- Reducing the fat, sugar and salt content of complementary foods and other processed foods;
- Ensuring that healthy and nutritious choices are available and affordable to all consumers;
- Practicing responsible marketing especially those aimed at children and teenagers.