Obesity epidemic hits children as young as 3 years old
The US Department of Health has published its new recommendations on physical exercise and for the first time in history it includes the youngest members.
The new document advises that children between three and six years do at least three hours of daily physical activity.
It is not the first time that these recommendations are issued in the world. Although it is the first time they are issued as a serious warning.
When they talk about physical activity experts do not refer to putting a small child to lift weights or to run marathons.
The report suggests that jumping or running is necessary to maintain good bone and muscle health; actions that are usually included in the games that the little ones perform naturally, so these suggestions can be a bit strange.
Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) help explain why they are not.
The prevalence of obesity in children has increased at an alarming rate. More than 41 million children under the age of five and 124 million between the ages of five and 19 – about ten times more than four decades ago – swell the statistics of what is considered an epidemic.
The problem is more serious in the poor and developing countries of Asia and Africa, but no part of the world is spared.
According to the WHO, in the US, childhood obesity stands at 18.5%. With these numbers it is easy to understand the recommendations that have been made.
But why do children gain so much weight?
Children spend more and more time in front of technological devices. Electronics are having the same effect television sets had years ago.
The increase in obesity at such early ages has its origin in the same factor that fattens adults: sedentary life.
Young children spend less and less time playing in the park or fiddling on the swings, which implies a substantial decrease in their physical activity.
Instead of playing outdoors, many stay in daycare centers or schools until their parents can pick them up and, depending on the size of the center, the classrooms and the playground, the possibilities of running freely vary.
In addition, when leaving it is increasingly frequent that parents, exhausted after working hours, choose to stay at home and technological devices become a way to pass the time.
“It is a sedentary leisure that shapes the parents, because they know that the child is entertained and the children love it because of the display of lights and colors.
In exchange, they lose time they could be enjoying outside, which is a better for their health and for motor development, says the expert.
Those over the age of five do not comply with the recommendations
Both the new document from the US Department of Health and the WHO recommend a daily hour of physical activity for those over the age of five, but this requirement is not fulfilled and every year things get worse.
Among other reasons, the report points to a change in leisure at school age. While before children played with balls outdoors, jumped rope in the street, now, it is usual for them to be confined at home looking at a screen.
“We’re growing a generation of inactive children, which puts them on a very dangerous path,” says Professor Mark Tremblay, president of Active Healthy Kids and a researcher at the CHEO Research Institute in Canada.
“We have a collective responsibility to reverse this trend, since sedentary children are more at risk to develop physical, mental and cognitive problems”.
According to Tremblay, the current trend is even more serious because today’s children belong to the generation that will have to face multiple challenges, so having good health to become resilient adults is very important.
Physical education hours in schools are not enough
Despite the seriousness of the problem, the good news is that childhood obesity has been detected and the next thing is to stop it.
“In schools, physical education classes work in that sense, but they are not enough,” says Rodríguez.
Transferring the competences of education to the autonomous communities, each one decides how to distribute the teaching load.
The minimum, in primary and secondary, usually goes around two hours a week, which is little.
“Families have to play an important role so that this does not remain only in the classes, and that on vacation the child does not return to a sedentary lifestyle.”
Experts say that there is a need to carry out global awareness campaigns that involve the educational authorities, town halls, celebrities, etc., towards the practice of sports at an early age.
The strategy should be to increase the supply of extracurricular sports activities at affordable prices, increase public use of endowments and the mobilization of parents themselves to lead a more active life.
Gestures such as avoiding the lift, walking whenever possible, going out with the bicycle or promoting physical activity on the weekends will contribute to implant those healthy patterns in the children.