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Body and Mind

Childhood Obesity


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Obesity among the young is fast becoming a major health problem. It is estimated that about 20-25% of Australian children and adolescents are overweight. This figure is comparable to that of the American population.

There are many causes of childhood obesity. These include:

  1. Medical problems such a thyroid gland problem.
  2. A sedentary life style.
  3. Lack of exercise.
  4. Overeating.
  5. Inappropriate diet with high fat content.

Life style and Diet

Medical problems among those with childhood obesity are unusual. Most are due to life style and diet problems.

We are living in a time of technological advancement. We are able to live in relative luxury. Many things can be done with little physical input. Think about the list of equipments and appliances in our home which can be operated by remote control and automatic programming. Whilst these have helped to make our life more comfortable, we have to pay a hefty price of physical inactivity.

The advent of the Information Age has further contributed to the sedentary life style of the young. Recreational activities such as sitting in front of the TV for endless hours or immersing oneself computer games or play stations are fast becoming the norm. Instant messaging technologies such as SMS, ICQ and MSN make it possible for the young to make virtual social contact with each other in the comfort of their homes. Young people these days tend to be less active physically than their parents when they were kids. Many young people just do not have sufficient physical exercise.

Besides, there is an abundance of fast food that is usually high in saturated fat content. Children and adults alike tend to prefer this than the boring but healthier diet. Parents who live a fast pace lifestyle are also more likely to buy take away and fast food for their children.

Food and stress

Food is imbued with a host of psychological significance than the nutritional value that it has. Children who experience stress in their life tend to overeat. They also tend to eat the wrong type of food that is high in sugar content. Research has shown that sugar induces the release of chemical in our bodies that make us feel good. This is why we tend to reach for the chocolate and lollies when we are stressed.

The problem with food with a high sugar content is that it induces a rapid and imprecise release of insulin, the hormone that helps the digestion and absorption of sugar into the cells of the body. What happens next is a reactive hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar level) due to the excessive insulin that is circulating in the body. The person feels lethargic, weak, dizzy and unwell. As a result, the person reaches for more food with a high sugar content and the cycle of hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar level), increase in insulin secretion and reactive hypoglycaemia continues. The excess calories that are not consumed are stored as fat in the body.

Childhood obesity and psychological health

Obese children are at a greater risk of developing psychological disorders such as an anxiety disorder or depression. The constant ridicule of the peers also affects the child’s self esteem. These children are the targets of bullying because they are different. Since obesity is usually wrongly equated with laziness and mental slowness, these children are usually mistaken as unintelligent or stupid. They suffer socially because their peers are reluctant to be identified with them.

The role of the parents

There are many simple but effective things that parents can do without resorting to a strict diet in the first instance. These include:

  1. Consult your doctor to ensure that your child does not have a medical problem.
  2. Ensure that your child exercise at least three times a week. Simple activities such as kicking a football in the garden and walking the dog can be just as effective as elaborate sports like cricket and soccer.
  3. Buy food with low saturated fat and refined sugar content. These days, most if not all food items usually have a label detailing the content and ingredients.
  4. Discourage snacks in between the three main meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Have small morning and afternoon teas.
  5. Serve plentiful amount of fruits and vegetable.
  6. Discourage eating in front of the TV.
  7. Use small dinner plates.
  8. Drink water rather than soft drink.
  9. Eat fruits and vegetable for snack rather than chocolate, cookies, biscuits and cakes.
  10. Buy take away food or eat out only once a week.
  11. Do not use food as reward for good behaviour.
  12. Teach your child stress management such as relaxation exercise and guided imagery.

The simple measures above usually help. If not, consult professionals such as a nutritionist and doctors who specialize in childhood obesity. If your child has a stress problem, consult a child psychiatrist.

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