Obesity In Children  
     
 

Overlooked, underestimated, untreated obesity in children is one of the main causes of type 2 diabetes in children and heart disease in adults.

We as parents fight so hard to keep our children healthy; when they are ill we take them to the doctor.  We are equally responsible to our children, for their immediate and future well being.

Why are children getting type 2 diabetes?

There is a direct link between child obesity and the onset of type 2 diabetes.  In some cases genetics or ethnic factors might be the cause; however type 2 diabetes is most often caused by irregular eating habits, and large portions of food with low nutritional value and a lack of exercise.

Why are children obese?

17% of South African children between the ages of 1-9 years of age are overweight.  Childhood obesity is linked primarily to unhealthy eating habits, and also to the fact that children today are a lot less active than in the past.  At the same time as many as 19% of children are stunted because of the insufficient food intake.  To prevent type 2 diabetes in children and heart disease in adults, we should implement a healthy lifestyle in our children from a young age.  It is much easier to change bad habits and get into a good routine when young, rather than waiting until these habits have become too ingrained. In short our children need to eat regular, balanced, healthy meals.  As well as leading more active lifestyles.

As a parent, what can you do?

Multilevel treatment

Set the example.  It is necessary for the whole family to look at their lifestyle and make the appropriate changes.  The initial goal of treatment for children should be to reduce the rate of weight gain with continued growth so that the desired change in weight for height is reached.  A multilevel approach would involve a balanced diet, together with an increase in activity as well as psychological support and behavioural changes.

Exercise:

Children should not only increase their physical activity, but should also decrease the time they spend on sedentary activities such as watching television and playing computer games.  Children as young as 1 year need to be active.  Children over 5 years old should be moderately active for at least 30 minutes every day and do at least 30 minutes of vigorous physical activities at least 3-4 times a week.  This doesn’t mean they have to join a gym - think creatively, and play soccer with them for only 30 minutes when you get home from work.  Have races in your back yard.  In summer swim with your children.  Often the reason our children sit in front of the TV or PC is because they need stimulation. Yes, time to play alone is important, but equally important is the time we spend with our kids being active.

Healthy eating:

Children should eat at least three times per day and have snacks in between, depending on their appetite and activity level.

  • A variety of food should be included in the diet, from all 5 food groups
  • To get a good start to the day breakfast is vital.
  • Limit portion size – amount of food and calories
  • Do not use food as a reward
  • Know what your child eats at school
  • Limit unhealthy snacks and encourage the intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Eat meals together as a family
  • Include food from all food groups
  • Maintain a healthy and realistic goal weight
  • Sugar/salt in moderation
  • Physical activity – increase activity and play, less TV, internet & video games

Children should not snack on nutrient poor foods eg:  chips, chocolates, sweets etc.

Rather they should have healthy snacks such as yoghurt, fresh fruit, dried fruit etc.

To encourage children to choose the healthier option, always keep a variety of healthy foods in stock and set a good example by eating healthy yourself.

By:  Dr. L Blignaut                                                                  011-6824442
Paediatrician
     

 
 
 
   
       
 

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