By Norshahira Mohamad Hashim

Obesity is not a condition but it is a disease. It is a global concern among children of all ages. Children who are obese are more likely to stay obese when they grow up as adolescents and adults. Obesity can be defined as excessive fat that affects health. It can be measured by commonly calculating the Body Mass Index (BMI). For children and adolescents, the BMI takes into account children’s age and gender based on growth reference curves released by the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to WHO (2018), 41 million children under the age of 5 were obese and over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were obese in 2016 worldwide.

Childhood obesity mainly involves children in lower socio-economic groups. These groups contribute more to obesity because they cannot afford to buy or consume nutritious food. However, in developing countries like Malaysia, childhood obesity is prevalent among both the upper and lower socio-economic groups. It is because people from both socioeconomic groups tend to eat unhealthy meals of which are less nutritious and high in calories although the price range might differ for both groups. Williams & Greene (2018) has identified five components that may contribute to childhood obesity as below:

  • Nutrition (imbalanced diet or consume too much fat and sugar)

  • Physical activity (levels of total energy expenditure and physical activity levels in children are very low)

  • Mental health and mood (eating patterns and interest in participation in activities)

  • Sleep routine (children do not get adequate sleep)

  • Media usage (eating while viewing screen leads to greater intake of food)

Image 1: Can taking prevention, 'less is more curb obesity?

Childhood obesity can begin at an early age. Parents have to set certain limits and boundaries to avoid this from happening. They have to teach children a healthy diet by limiting their intake of sweet food or reducing their screen time while eating. That is why ‘less is more' because children who take less sugar will be more healthy. Parents can also feed their children more fruits and vegetables or play with them to promote a healthy lifestyle. Besides, children need to be provided with better nutrition at home and at school to prevent children from becoming adolescents or adults at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancers due to obesity (World Health Organization, 2017). Moreover, the prevention and treatment of obesity can be made by tracking children’s health and body weight because it can be a significant obesity indicator during later stages of childhood and adolescence (World Obesity Federation, 2018).

In a nutshell, childhood obesity is one of the challenges for global public health promotion in the 21st century. Childhood obesity cannot be taken lightly because it happens globally. Everyone should take prevention measures because obesity is not a condition but a disease although preventable. Parents, teachers or the government must play an active role to reduce the increased number of childhood obesity based on the identified causes. We can save the lives of our younger generation by taking immediate action. The future starts now.

Fact Sheets on Obesity and Overweight (2018, February 16). In World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight

Williams S.E & Greene J.L (2018). Childhood overweight and obesity: affecting Factors, Education and Intervention. (2018). Journal of Childhood Obesity, 3(2:9), 1-7. doi:10.21767/2572-5394.100049

Hope, C. (2010, January 31). Fat parents to blame for childhood obesity epidemic by over-feeding under-fives, study finds. The Telegraph.

Newsroom on Tenfold increase in childhood and adolescent obesity in four decades: new study by Imperial College London and WHO (2018, October 11). In World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/11-10-2017-tenfold-increase-in-childhood-and-adolescent-obesity-in-four-decades-new-study-by-imperial-college-london-and-who

World Obesity Federation (2018). Taking Action on Childhood Obesity. Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/274792/WHO-NMH-PND-ECHO-18.1-eng.pdf?ua=1

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