Childhood obesity is one of the biggest problems that public health faces in the 21st century. This is a global problem affecting many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban areas. Prevalence has increased at an alarming rate. It is estimated that in 2016 the world had more than 41 million overweight children. Nearly half of these children under 5 live in Asia and nearly a quarter in Africa. Overweight and obese children are likely to remain obese as adults and are more likely to develop non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease at an earlier age. Overweight and obesity and the diseases that are associated with them can be prevented. The prevention of childhood obesity must therefore be accorded a high degree of priority. Overweight and obesity are defined as “abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that poses a health risk”.
Measuring overweight and obesity
A simple index is difficult to develop that measures overweight and obesity in children and adolescents as their body undergoes a number of physiological changes as they grow. Depending on the age, different methods of measuring body weight are available:
For ages 5-19
WHO has developed baseline data on growth for ages 5 to 19. This is a reconstruction of the 1977 National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) / WHO reference data that uses original NCHS data supplemented by data from the WHO sample of child growth standards for under 5 years old.
The most commonly used measure of overweight and obesity is Body Mass Index (BMI) – a simple index that estimates overweight and obesity in adult populations and individuals. It corresponds to the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the size expressed in meters (kg / m2).
BMI applies to both sexes and all adult age groups. However, it must be considered as a rough indication because it does not necessarily correspond to the same percentage of fat mass according to individuals. BMI is not yet usable in the case of children.
The consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle during childhood
Overweight and obese children are more likely to remain obese once they reach adulthood and to contract non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease at an earlier age. In the case of most non-communicable diseases caused by obesity, the risks depend in part on the age at which obesity appeared and its duration. Obese children and adolescents experience both short-term and long-term health consequences. The most serious consequences of childhood overweight and obesity, which often do not occur before adulthood, include: Cardiovascular diseases (especially heart disease and stroke);
Musculoskeletal disorders, especially osteoarthritis;
Certain types of cancer (endometrium, breast and colon).
Overweight and obesity kill at least 2.6 million people a year.
Double burden: a serious risk
Many low- and middle-income countries now face a “double burden” of disease: while continuing to address the challenges of infectious diseases and under nutrition, they are also experiencing rapid non-communicable diseases such as obesity and overweight, especially in urban areas. Seeing obesity and under nutrition in the same country is not uncommon. Not only the country, but under the same roof and community is not uncommon either, This double burden is caused by inadequate nutrition of the pregnant woman, baby and young child, followed by high-fat, high-energy, micronutrient-poor foods, and a lack of physical activity when the child grows up.
Reasons why children and adolescents become Obese
The main cause of childhood overweight and obesity is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories burned.
The global increase in childhood overweight and obesity is attributable to a number of factors: A change in global diets that results in increased consumption of high-energy foods high in fat and sugar, but with too few vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients that are good for health; A declining trend in physical activity due to the sedentary nature of many forms of recreation, changing modes of transportation and rampant urbanization.
Societal causes of the childhood obesity epidemic
The WHO recognizes that the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity is the result of changes in society. Childhood obesity is primarily associated with unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity, although the problem is not just in the behavior of children, but increasingly in social and economic development as well as policies in the areas of agriculture, transport, urban planning, environment, food preparation, distribution and marketing, as well as education. The problem is societal and therefore requires a multi-sector, multidisciplinary and culturally relevant approach at the population level. Unlike most adults, children and adolescents are not able to choose the environment in which they live or the foods they eat. They also do not fully understand the long-term consequences of their behavior. We must therefore pay special attention to them when fighting the epidemic of obesity.
Fighting against Obesity
Overweight and obesity, as well as the non-communicable diseases that accompany them, are largely preventable. It is recognized that prevention is the best way to stop the childhood obesity epidemic, as routine treatments are focused on getting the problem under control rather than healing. The goal of the fight against childhood obesity is to achieve an energy balance that can be maintained throughout the life of the individual.
The main causes of the increase in childhood obesity are a change in diet with increased consumption of energy foods high in fats and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals and other healthy micro-nutrients, and a trend the decrease in physical activity. The WHO has developed a Global Strategy for Diet, Physical Activity and Health at the request of its Member States approved by the World Health Assembly in May 2004.
As a matter of fact, all of these can be prevented when the kids are growing as physical exercise and healthy eating should be promoted to the kids by the parents. As a result, children will lead a healthy lifestyle that will promote well-being and reduce the risk of obesity.