Is your child growing up healthy and strong or is he overweight and susceptible to the health problems that come with it? Here’s where you discover the truth…
The word ‘fat’ can be very vague. However, what we’re referring to here is – does your child have a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI)?
All parents want their child to grow up healthy, strong and bright. It is safe to say that parents clearly understand that nutrition is essential for a child’s growth and as such, they always strive to provide the best for their child.
However, does your child’s diet consist of more of what he needs to eat or what he wants to eat? Urban Health speaks to Nutritionist and the President of Nutrition Society of Malaysia, Dr. Tee Ee Siong, on an increasingly serious problem in our nation – childhood obesity.
One in seven
According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey carried out in 2011, one in seven Malaysian children are obese! This rising trend is indeed worrying as in fact, our local figures are not very far away from the United States which reports that one in five American children are obese.
If childhood obesity is not tackled, Dr. Tee says that it can lead to a series of health problems. “An obese child will likely to grow up to be an obese adolescent,” he points out. “The child will also have at greater risk for diet-related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases and cancers.” Dr. Tee adds that there is scientific evidence linking obesity to these chronic diseases to the extent that in some quarters, obesity is referred to as the ‘mother of all diseases’.
Childhood obesity does not happen overnight. It is a problem that gradually gains momentum, over time. The two main reasons behind childhood obesity are excessive food intake and physical inactivity.
“When it comes to excessive food intake, the problem is related to food and beverages that are high in fat and sugary content,” explains Dr. Tee. “If a child eats these foods in high amounts and too frequently, it can lead to obesity.”
As for physical inactivity, Dr. Tee observes that children today do not participate in physical activity outside the house and this is part of the problem. “They spend a lot of time indoors, doing school work, tuition, music class and so on. They also spend long hours of screen time, watching the television, computer work and even on their tablets and mobile phones.”
Excessive food intake and physical inactivity go hand in hand. Dr. Tee explains. “In energy balance, what a child eats is then used during physical activities.” Hence, if a child takes in more energy than he needs, and does not ‘burn’ this energy through physical activity, it will result in the extra energy being stored as fat in the body. This will then lead to weight gain and eventually obesity.”
As parents, you certainly would not want your child to be obese especially when obesity is also linked to a series of life threatening diseases. So, how important is your role as a parent in combating childhood obesity?
The primary approach
Now that you’re aware of the two main causes of childhood obesity, Dr. Tee’s advice is to tackle each one effectively.
The first thing to focus on is healthy eating and it should be the primary approach to preventing obesity. This means that you should ensure that your child is eating balanced meals in line with the main food groups including lean meat, fish, legumes, vegetables and fruits.
Next comes to physical activity. Dr. Tee says that parents should encourage their children to get involved in outdoor activities. For instance, he suggests helping out with gardening and washing the car. “It would also be great if family members can exercise together, giving each other support and encouragement. It is more fun to be do these activities together,” he says.
One of the best ways to determine if your child is overweight is to calculate his Body Mass Index (BMI). “The method of calculation is the same as an adult which is weight(kg) / height (m) x height (m). However, there is not a single cut off like in adults. The cut off for a child depends on his age and there is a separate cut off for boys and girls. Hence, it is called BMI for age. So, a child of 10 years has a different cut-off compared to a child 11 of years,” clarifies Dr. Tee.
You can visit the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (www.nutriweb.org.my) for more information on BMI for age. If your child’s weight and health needs attention, you should seek advice from a medical expert. “We must arrest the increase of obesity rates in our country immediately,” declares Dr. Tee adding that parents should set a good example for healthy living and become role models for their children.
Can a child be born obese?
“Yes, a baby can be born overweight,” reveals Dr. Tee. “This may be a genetic thing or it could be the dietary intake of the mother during pregnancy. Though, generally, it is believed that it is more of the latter rather than the former.” This highlights the importance of a pregnant mother focusing on optimal nutrient intake.
Team work pays off
Working together as a family can lead to a healthy lifestyle. Plus, it’s a fun, wholesome approach to combating obesity. Dr. Tee shares some websites which you can check out as they contain useful information about healthy eating as well as a healthy lifestyle.
Nutrition Month Malaysia
Nestle Healthy Kids