The diet of a child is a sensitive issue, not only because the children are the most valuable thing in our lives, but also because childhood obesity has taken epidemic proportions.
Research findings are disappointing. The children`s weight is increasing and it is estimated that childhood obesity takes enormous proportions worldwide. So, worldwide 22 million children under the age of 5 are obese, while in Europe generally 27 million children has a weight problem. In Greece and in Cyprus the 1/3 of the children has a weight problem with a tendency to increase. If we also consider, that our habits are consolidated in childhood, an obese child is a potential obese adult, with everything that this implies about his/her health. Characteristically a survey that was conducted by the Harokopion University i Greece, showed that more than 2/3 of the children with a weight problem had marginal or increased level of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. Other problems that can result from childhood obesity are among others orthopaedic problems, danger of cardiovascular diseases and psychological problems such as disorders of our own image, low self-esteem, feelings of rejection due to discrimination, etc.
Whether a child is obese or not, we can find that out according to the growth curves. By using the body mass index (BMI) the child should ideally be around the 50th place. If the child is over the85th or 90th position, then he/she is considered overweight and if the child is over the 95th place he/she is considered obese. Furthermore, if he/she is under the 10th place, the child is considered underweight. Another way is to estimate the growth curves of weight for age and the waist circumference, while an objective evaluation of obesity can be done by measuring the skin fold thickness, something which is not often applied.
Childhood obesity has many reasons that can lead to its appearance. The main reason is the positive energy balance, i.e. in simple words the children get more calories than those that “burns“ their organisation. The change of our life, where from our Mediterranean diet we changed to a western type of diet with more fast food, processed foods and various sweets which are rich in sugar and fat, together with the significant reduce of children`s exercise, is the main factor for childhood obesity.
A recent large EU research, IDEFICS, where several factors about children`s health and the relationship between weight and health according to their diet and lifestyle were studied and showed some significant results. So, it seemed that the children in the southern countries have a bigger waist circumference than in the northern countries. The same happened with the obesity rates and at the same time the children of the south seemed to eat more snacks by watching television. Whether that is a real factor though, remains to be elucidated. Also, it appeared that the children in the south consume more sweets and sodas with sugar and less fruit and vegetables.
Moreover, the adequate sleep seems to be associated with obesity and it is another important factor that contributes to its development, as the above research showed. Specifically, the scientists counted the hours of sleep and concluded that preschool children who slept less than 11 hours had 40% higher risk to become overweight, while they had 300% higher risk if they slept less than 9 hours. It seemed that the time that could be used for sleeping, was spending for watching television or playing videogames, especially in boys. So, it is important for parents to ensure that their children sleep enough hours.
The parents and their socioeconomic status are another major cause for childhood obesity. Children who had one or more obese parent were more likely to be also overweight or obese. The parents are a role model for the children and in a way they “inherit” their behaviour to their children and shape the behaviour and the habits of their children as well. Apart from the parents themselves, the general environment of the children plays also a significant role, such as the grandparents and the children`s friends. The education and the income of the parents seem to play also an important role. The children, whose parents had a low income, had 50% more chance to be overweight or obese compared to the children whose parents had a high income. This phenomenon can be partly explained by the lower diet quality in the low-income families. This element is particularly important for the modern world, where the economical crisis has affected significantly the economic level of the majority of the people. It is also noteworthy that the children from single-parent families are more prone to become obese compared to the children from families with two parents.
Basic and simple advices in order to prevent childhood obesity are the following:
- The family meals should meet the real needs of the children
- Do not pressure the children to eat all the food in their plate without wanting to
- The children should eat slowly, with pauses and enjoying the company of the table
- Do not reward the children with food or punish them by forbidding food
- Give your children healthy snacks between the meals, like yogurt, fruit and vegetables
- Replacement of the child`s idle time (television, videogames) with moving activities
- The parents should eat healthy
- The parents should involve themselves in various activities with their children
Finally, it should be noted that children need proper information. Children after the age of 8 prefer to do things for a reason rather than because someone told them to do. It is easier for them to make the right choices if they have learned the techniques in order to decide properly. A way in order to achieve that is to make them understand the cause behind a good and a bad choice. For example, selecting only the most delicious foods can lead to a lack of essential components or moving only by car leads to losing the opportunity of a good shape. It is important for you to do that in a simple and understanding way for the children avoiding complicated and detailed concepts.
So, by having all the above in mind, the parents should try daily to provide the best conditions to their children, so they can learn to choose the right way o living. In this the parents should set an example, but above all they should constitute a part of it. The current structure of the society led to a lack of spending quality time with our children, which leads us to the “easy“ solution of neglecting what is important. So, let`s make sure that we are going to spend quality time with our family and utilize all the means that are provided to us through science in an appropriate way and to become the solution to our problems.
- Cole TJ, Belizzi MC, Flegal KM, Dietz WH. Establishing a standard definition for child overweight and obesity worldwide: International survey. BMJ 2000, 320:1-6.
- Antonis Zampelas. Diet through the stages of life, 2003 Medical Pub. P. X. Pasxalidis, p. 209-213, 216-218, 257-260.
- Rachel Pryke, Gr. Pub. Magklara E., Tsarouxi A. Childhood Obesity, 2006 Pub. BHTA, p. 107-108.
- The European Food Information Council, at: http://www.eufic.org/en/collaboration/article/how-to-prevent-childhood-obesity-news-from-the-idefics-study (accessed 6th Feb. 2017).
- http://www.ideficsstudy.eu/Idefics/ (accessed 6th Feb. 2017).