Health & Wellness Parenthood

Fighting Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic globally, and the World Health Organization has called it “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.”

By Mariza Halliday

Obesity during childhood is a serious matter that can lead to several medical problems, including diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea and high blood pressure. In addition, being overweight can also take an emotional toll on children, resulting in depression and low self-esteem caused by different psychological pressures. The World Obesity Federation released statistics predicting that 3.91 million South African school children will be overweight or obese by 2025. South Africa has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world with an alarming figure of 13%. The global average stands at 6%.

Defining Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity occurs when a child has excess body fat and, as a result, falls well above the recommended weight for his or her height. The body mass index (BMI) scale is the most common and effective tool used to later in life. The causes of childhood obesity are complex. The most obvious causes are overeating and not getting enough exercise, fuelled by energy-dense foods and increased screen time. Other reasons obesity may occur include poor sleeping patterns, poverty, poor gut health and genetic predisposition as well as social and environmental factors.Psychological issues can be caused by obesity, but they can also lead to obesity. Children who are stressed, suffer from anxiety, are bored or depressed may become emotional eaters. Child therapist, Gill Liprini, says that it is common for children who are overweight to have a low self-image. “Not only do overweight and obese children get teased, but they also suffer the humiliation of not being able to excel or participate in sport because of their weight. They feel ashamed of their bodies. They either become withdrawn to go unnoticed, or adopt bullying behaviour and become angry and aggressive, as they are often bigger than others,” she says. estimate a child’s appropriate weight.A child’s BMI score is determined differently than that of an adult. Rather than using a mathematical formula, growth charts from the CDC are used to determine a child’s BMI. Growth charts are used because they factor in a child’s growth patterns as they age and accommodate gender differences through the maturation process. Obese children will have a BMI at or above the 95th percentile Overweight children will have a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and lower than the 95th percentile.

Not only do overweight and obese children get teased, but they also suffer the humiliation of not being able to excel or participate in sport because of their weight.

What Causes Childhood Obesity

One of the main causes of South Africa’s childhood obesity rate is the rapid growth of the country’s commercial food industry. This has resulted in enhanced consumption of low-cost, readily available and ultra-processed food. Studies show that both children of overweight parents and children subjected to malnutrition during pregnancy or infancy are likely to become obese later in life. The causes of childhood obesity are complex. The most obvious causes are overeating and not getting enough exercise, fuelled by energy-dense foods and increased screen time. Other reasons obesity may occur include poor sleeping patterns, poverty, poor gut health and genetic predisposition as well as social and environmental factors.Psychological issues can be caused by obesity, but they can also lead to obesity. Children who are stressed, suffer from anxiety, are bored or depressed may become emotional eaters. Child therapist, Gill Liprini, says that it is common for children who are overweight to have a low self-image. “Not only do overweight and obese children get teased, but they also suffer the humiliation of not being able to excel or participate in sport because of their weight. They feel ashamed of their bodies. They either become withdrawn to go unnoticed, or adopt bullying behaviour and become angry and aggressive, as they are often bigger than others,” she says.

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