23 November 2017, Dubai, UAE: This World Anti-Obesity Day, experts are calling for parents to introduce more exercise and healthy eating into their children's daily lives to prevent the emerging obesity epidemic in the region, and help prevent the psychological effects of obesity.
Childhood obesity has emerged as a major health challenge around the globe affecting more than 41 million children worldwide, and forecasted to reach 70 million by 2025, if current trends continue . According to the World Health Organisation, over 17% of children in the UAE are classed as obese . The effects of obesity extend to the community and finances of the country and it is currently costing the UAE $6 billion per year .
The psychological effects of obesity are overwhelmingly evident according to Bahee Van de Bor, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) in London. “Overweight and obese children are likely to remain obese into adulthood and face problems such as depression and bullying, which can further decrease children's self-esteem and mental well-being,” says Ms. Van de Bor. She added that to avoid the psychological problems continuing into adulthood, it is important to tackle childhood obesity early.
Dr Lee Hudson, Consultant General Paediatrician at GOSH emphasises the severity of the problem stating that it is an emerging epidemic in the region and says that “issues with weight tend to build over time and they can go unnoticed by the family until the problems are established”.
Obesity has several effects on a child's health, now and in the future, and is a leading cause of death around the world. Obese children have an increased risk as adults for strokes, coronary artery disease, hypertension and diabetes, which will lead to a decreased quality of life and a shortened lifespan.
“Losing weight is hard, and the treatment for being overweight is usually the same as the way to prevent it,” says Dr. Hudson who is urging families in the Middle East to take action against childhood obesity.
Dr. Hudson and Ms. Van De Bor agree that the support network around the child can play a key role in the prevention or treatment of obesity. “It is important that the family encourage positive body image from an early age, teach their children about nutrition and understand what factors are driving weight gain,” urges Ms. Van de Bor.
People who do exercise regularly have a 50% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and 30% lower risk of early death, dementia and depression. In addition to the health benefits of exercise, Ms. Van de Bor highlights that overweight and obese children who exercise regularly will see benefits in their school performance as they are able to focus and concentrate better.
Children need around 60 minutes of exercise a day which can be split between school and extra-curricular activities. Being active and eating healthy shouldn't feel like chores to the child and should be incorporated in an enjoyable way as simple as playing tag.
Tackling the problem together as a family can be a great step towards a healthy lifestyle and Ms. Van de Bor recommends that parents participate in the activity with their child and prepare a nutritious snack for them to eat immediately after the activity.
“This reduces the temptation to snack on high sugar/fat snacks later in the day. Always offer your support and understanding and ensure that there are plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy snacks readily available for children to eat at home when hungry,” she says.
Tips for parents
Top tips from Lee Hudson, Consultant General Paediatrician, and Niamh Landry, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian, at GOSH to help get kids and families healthy and active.
- Get active! Exercising is important for preventing weight problems.
Kids need about 60 minutes a day and they need help achieving this both in school and at home. Encourage them to join a school sports team or take part in school activities. After school, look into local after school clubs or sports teams; there are lots of fun ways for kids to do 60 minutes without making it a chore.
Activities such as cycling, walking, playing tag, jumping rope or swimming and dancing are great activities to encourage your child to do exercise.
Exercise is more fun as a family! It should be encouraged and integrated in everyday family life. This can be small, incremental changes (e.g. deciding to walk to school rather than taking the car), to bigger changes (e.g. family trips to the swimming pool or going on a family bike ride).
Reducing the amount of time kids spend in front of a screen, such as a computer, television or video game consoles is also beneficial.
All the family need to be on board with a healthy ‘get fit, get active' attitude so the child doesn't feel odd or singled out. This will soon make this healthy attitude a normal, everyday part of family life.
It's important that the body is fuelled correctly to feel the benefits of doing exercise. Make sure the family are eating regular, healthy and properly portioned meals every day. Watch out of sugary snacks and drinks in between meals and instead snack on fruit or nuts and drink water where necessary.