What You Need To Know About Child Obesity
Obesity is a growing epidemic. In fact, doctors have gone one step further and have labeled obesity as a pandemic or an outbreak of global proportions.
This is a condition that is deeply rooted in our childhood where our values including our relationship with food are influenced by external conditions.
Thus, to control the obesity pandemic we must work to lessen the incidence of child obesity.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Wellness (AIHW), one in four or 25% of children in Australia are categorised as obese.
Australia is one of three developing countries that have the fastest rising rates of obesity. The other two are the United States and the United Kingdom.
But how do you classify a person as “obese”?
People have interchanged the meaning of being “overweight” with being “obese”.
The popular reference is the Body Mass Index or BMI which defines the ideal body weight according to height.
So if we are to follow the BMI chart, if you are 196 centimeters tall and weigh 118 kilograms you are classified as obese. Using the BMI as the reference tool, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is obese.
Thus, the BMI is not an accurate basis for obesity because being overweight does not mean you are obese.
Body weight is the sum total of a person’s physiological composition: fat, muscle, water, blood and bone.
A better measurement is body fat percentage. According to Jack Willmore and David Costill, authors of the book “Physiology of Sport and Exercise”, a body fat percentage of 25% for women and 35% for men qualify one as obese.
Obesity carries many health risks. Among the serious ones are as follows:
• Coronary Heart Disease
• High Blood Pressure
• Type 2 Diabetes
• Sleep Apnea
• Reproductive Problems
Obesity does not only present health risks but has economic considerations as well.
According to Access Economics, the total health cost of obesity to the Australian government in 2008 was estimated at $58 Billion.
So how do we avoid child obesity?
There is a direct correlation between lack of physical activity and obesity.
A study done by the Department of Health and Ageing in 2006 showed that more Australian children aged 5 to 14 spent more hours watching television and playing video games than being involved in physical activity.
With the growth of the smart phone, the popularity of the Internet and social media, we could expect more children adopting the sedentary lifestyle.
Lack of physical activity could make children more sluggish and slow down their metabolism.
A sedentary lifestyle could conceivably encourage children to follow an unhealthy diet of junk food and sugary sweets.
We have to get children into the great Australian outdoors. Australia has many beautiful beaches, parks and is home to world class fitness centers.
Weather is ideal for different types of activity year-round.
Over the years, Australians have made their mark in sports such as swimming, tennis, rugby, basketball and combat sports.
The more we get children to exercise, the more active and attuned they would be to their health and fitness.
For years people have labeled fat as the “villain” among the macronutrients.
In 1971, a cardiologist Dr. Robert Atkins revealed the findings of his research which showed fat was not the culprit for the growing rate of obesity.
It was carbohydrates. Yes, carbohydrates which formed the base of “The Food Pyramid”.
When we ingest a carbohydrate, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin which acts as the transport medium to deliver the carbohydrate into muscle cells.
Once driven into the muscle cell, carbohydrates are converted to glycogen which is stored muscle energy.
The body’s supply of glycogen is depleted by physical activity or extended periods of fasting.
What happens when you ingest carbohydrates and your muscle stores are still full of glycogen?
Excess glycogen is delivered into adipose tissue otherwise known as the fat cell. This is how you get fat.
Despite the research of Dr. Atkins, other cardiologists and nutritionists in the years that followed, many organisations including schools continued to promote “The Food Pyramid” as the basis for a balanced, healthy diet.
In 2001, a nutritionist from Harvard, Dr. Walter Willett labeled “The Food Pyramid” as irresponsible and self-serving.
Does this mean we should remove carbohydrates from our children’s diet? No. Carbohydrates are an important macronutrient.
It functions to support the vital organs and protects the immune system.
But institutions in government particularly those in education could update their curriculum and discuss the latest developments in diet and nutrition.
By doing so, schools are not giving in to diets popular in the mainstream.
It is merely carrying out its function to educate its students on research that could have repercussions on their way of life.
Global obesity should be top priority of every country, not just Australia.
Private corporations should work hand-in-hand with their government to increase awareness on the growing rate of obesity and its consequences on health.
Government should follow the paths set by British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and United States First Lady Michelle Obama who campaigned for school menus to switch to healthier options in the UK and the US respectively.
Perhaps nutritionists could study and test if the typical Asian diet could stem the growing rate of obesity.
A typical Asian diet consists of rice or noodles, fresh vegetables and unprocessed meats.
Instead of sugary soft drinks, Asians prefer herbal teas and water sprinkled with lemon. Asian countries have the lowest rates of obesity in the world.
The battle versus obesity cannot be won overnight.
There are many other variables to the equation which make it a difficult problem to solve. Obesity appears to be a product of our lifestyle choices.
In a strange conundrum, technology has evolved to a point that we can do things faster.
But improved efficiency only meant we could do MORE things within the same time frame.
Hence, we have become busier than ever. And the busier we get the less time we have to allocate to healthier pursuits like exercise and following a clean diet.
Technology Vs Nature
Today’s generation has become more dependent on technology than any other generation.
When a watch has to tell you it’s time to move or that you need to exercise, it becomes apparent there is disconnect between humanity and technology.
When 20 hours a week of a child’s life is spent in front of a screen instead of a soccer field, then perhaps it is man who serves technology and not the other way around.
In the end, it could well be that the best way to beat obesity is to teach children to embrace humanity; discover the world outside their window and not the one that can only be accessed by mobile gadgets.