Childhood obesity: How to cut your child’s risk factors as cases rise

Most parents promise junk food as a reward when they want their children to achieve something, which contributes to the increased trend of obesity.

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As a parent, you are likely to be satisfied and at peace when your child finishes everything on their plate and you even go to the extent of insisting they clear it when they hesitate.

However, while this might be a good sign of appetite, it can also translate to overfeeding and predispose your child to obesity.

Obesity has long been associated with adults but children also suffer from obesity. I see a lot of obese children in my clinic and the trend is on the increase, especially in children from middle and high-income families.

In my experience, most parents are aware that their child is obese, but they often don't realise the seriousness of the condition. They tend to think it's just a phase or something that will resolve on its own. When I explain to them that obesity is a disease with long-term health impacts, especially as the child grows into adulthood, they are often quite surprised and concerned.

Several factors contribute to the rising trend of obesity in children. The increased consumption of junk foods high in calories and low in nutritional value is a major factor. Additionally, children are spending more time on phones and watching TV, leading to more screen time and less physical activity.

There's also a tendency for parents to insist that children finish everything on their plate, which can encourage overeating. Lastly, young children are often fed while watching TV or using phones, which can disrupt their natural hunger and fullness cues, leading to overeating.

The best way to tell if your child is obese is to consult a paediatrician. They can assess your child's overall health and growth patterns using body mass index (BMI) and standard growth charts. Look for physical signs like excessive weight gain and difficulty with physical activities.

Balancing between overfeeding and underfeeding involves several key strategies:

Provide a balanced diet: Ensure your child has a diet that includes a variety of nutrients, with appropriate portions of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains.

Establish proper meal patterns: Serve meals and snacks at regular intervals to avoid overeating or undereating. Consistent meal times help regulate appetite and prevent excessive hunger.

Avoid screen time during meals: Encourage your child to have mindful eating by turning off the TV and keeping phones away during meals. This helps children listen to their hunger and fullness cues.

Don’t use food as a reward: Avoid using food to reward good behaviour or to comfort your child. This can create unhealthy associations with food. Most parents promise junk food as a reward when they want their children to achieve something, which contributes to the increased trend of obesity.

Take your child for regular check-ups: Have regular follow-ups with a paediatrician who can monitor your child's growth and provide age-appropriate dietary advice and assessments. We tend to assume only adults need regular check-ups and forget children, while their growth and development milestones are equally important.

By following these steps, parents can help their children develop healthy eating habits and maintain a balanced diet. Parents can control a child's appetite by offering healthy snacks like vegetables, yoghurt, grains and increasing water intake. Control portion size, adopt healthy eating habits, and adopt a healthy feeding pattern.

Obesity health problems

An obese child is at increased risk of developing: Excess weight can lead to Type 2 diabetes, pain and discomfort in the knees, hips, and lower back, an increased risk of asthma and sleep apnea due to excess weight, a higher likelihood of experiencing low self-esteem due to social stigma and body image concerns, early onset of puberty or menstrual irregularities in girls, obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep-related problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and increased risk of heart disease in early adulthood.

Addressing obesity early can help reduce the risk of these health problems and improve the overall well-being of the child.

Dr Kahssay is a consultant paediatric diabetologist and endocrinologist at Aga Khan University Hospital

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