EDITORIAL – Childhood obesity fight continues
According to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), the number of overweight and obese children in the region has more than doubled over the last decade, due primarily to unhealthy diets and inadequate exercise.
A study done in four Caribbean countries has found that 30 per cent of children ages 11 through 13 are overweight or obese. Now we all know that the consequences of overweight and obesity in children are serious, including breathing difficulties, hypertension, early signs of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention however suggests that childhood obesity is a complex health issue, with the main causes of excess weight in youth being similar to those in adults, including individual causes such as behaviour and genetics. The CDC points out that behaviours can include dietary patterns, physical activity, inactivity, medication use, and other exposures. Additional contributing factors in society include the food and physical activity environment, education and skills, and food marketing and promotion.
Here in Barbados, projects have been taken to the schools to promote healthy eating and healthy living in general. The aim has been to make key interventions while the children are still young, to see them change their dietary habits and to get them on the move, so that they do not come down with chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) as they advance into adulthood.
However, as we walk around Barbados, we will see some children who definitely fall into the overweight and obese categories and we have to keep wondering, is physical activity no longer cherished by today’s youngsters? It seems that some young children will opt to browse the Internet on a computer or tablet or play video games on evenings and weekends, rather than make a definitive decision to play outdoors or get involved in some active sport, three or four times in the week. Now that children are out of school early, we can only hope that adults insist that they get some outdoor activity, even if that activity is confined to the front or backyard of the home, rather than stay inside glued to a screen all day, watching non-productive shows.
What we know as well too, is that dietary habits are factoring into the equation in a big way, as a number of children opt for greasy, fatty foods before they select a dish of ground provisions, and many of them are opposed to eating vegetables on their own or in salads. Numerous children are still consuming salty and sugary snacks as well as sodas, and with inactivity present, obesity is bound to step in.
On the plus side, we can be glad that officials have seen the need to step in to make key interventions before we are further burdened as a nation with a further rise in CNCDs. We must get the message out there that children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults, and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis down the road. Healthy lifestyle habits can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.