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November 29, 2021
Childhood obesity has been a prevalent issue in Singapore for the past two decades. In 2016, the obesity rate among children who are schooling locally stood at 12%. According to a survey conducted by the National Population Health in 2017, the proportion of overweight children in mainstream schools had increased from 11% in 2013 to 13% in 2017. This number has remained on an upward trajectory since – and it is concerning.
Defined as a condition characterised by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body, the World Health Organisation has labelled childhood obesity as “one of the most serious public health challenges in the 21st century”. This is because abnormal or excessive fat accumulation is often associated with many different health complications. It puts children and adolescents at risk for life-threatening health issues such as diabetes, high blood cholesterol, early heart disease, and fatty liver diseases – and the perils go beyond just physical health.
Compared to their healthy-weight peers, there seems to be a heightened risk of psychological comorbidities among overweight children. These children often face stigma in school, which leads them down a path of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. It consequently also affects their ability to establish friendships.
Contrary to popular belief that obese children will eventually outgrow their baby fats, a study by the Health Promotion Board indicates that seven in 10 children who are overweight at age seven are likely to find themselves obese into adulthood.
Given its many implications, there is a need for better preventive strategies and interventions. Understanding the causes of obesity is the first step.
Obesity often stems from a combination of excessive caloric intake, lifestyle and genetic factors.
Diets steep in fats and sugar have long been linked to weight gain. Sugar, in particular, has stirred up hot debates among parents as increasing evidence suggests sugar-laden foods (like soft drinks and candy bars) as the main culprit behind childhood obesity.
Physical inactivity is, too, driving the surge in childhood obesity. With the various modes of transport available these days, most children no longer opt to walk to school. Not to mention, the acceleration of technological advancements has led to a negative shift in preference. It’s clear that children of the 21st century are more inclined to spend their time indoors – either to binge-watch TV or to indulge in computer games – than to bask in the sun outdoors.
While genes can also play a role in childhood obesity, they are typically coupled with contributing environmental and behavioural factors. Childhood obesity cannot be explained by genes alone.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is typically used as a benchmark to flag obesity. If your child’s BMI is beyond the recommended range, it could indicate that he or she is obese.
It is to note that BMI is age and gender-specific. Hence, it should be assessed and interpreted carefully for every individual.
When it comes to preventing and managing childhood obesity, parents, as influential family members, have a critical role to play.
Children learn by example – they tend to mimic the behaviours of the people around them. Many times, children become obese as a result of modelling their parents’ lifestyle. For children to develop healthy habits, parents need to first lead by example. Encourage the little ones to spend less time on sedentary activities and get active together as a family.
Some fun activities that families can do together include cycling, going to the trampoline park, or hiking. Even coming together for a good old game of tag in the park could do the trick.
During key developmental years, children spend a significant proportion of their time at home. Thus, creating a positive home environment is the key to raising healthy, happy children.
This can start from eating together as a family whenever possible. This provides structure around meals, and when the whole family is involved in healthy dietary practices, children are more likely to follow suit.
To further motivate the kids, parents can also introduce incentives.
Healthy eating habits should be cultivated from young. There are many ways parents can guide their children towards making healthier food choices.For one, parents can switch out the unhealthy snacks in the kitchen with low-calorie snacks like nuts, greek yoghurt and mixed berries. Regular noodles and rice can also be replaced with alternatives such as AMAZING LOKARB™ Shirataki Noodles and Rice. They taste just as good as (or even better) than regular noodles and rice – so kids in Singapore can barely distinguish these alternatives from the noodles and rice they know and love.
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