The key to ending childhood obesity is in your hands
The causes of the problem are well known – a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle are the main culprits – the solutions escape us.
How to take time to cook healthy and varied dishes, instead of opting for precooked foods?
How to get children off the screens and make sure they have a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day?
How to control the advertising of processed foods aimed at children?
These are three among many questions parents ask themselves every day. Perhaps they have forgotten a tool that has been relegated to pediatricians but many of us still have at home.
A study published recently in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports supports a very worrying idea if eating habits do not change soon.
A group of researchers from the United Kingdom made a review of 54 international studies that had taken measurements of height and weight of children, between 4 and 11 years, since the year 2000.
Their analysis reveals that children are not being weighed enough, and that makes it difficult to carry out early action against childhood obesity.
That is the best measure against the problem, and leaving the control of the weight exclusively in the hands of doctors may be insufficient because the problem can arise between doctor visits.
Diagnosing childhood obesity, when it is already established, in moderate-severe degrees, means that we have not put preventive measures into place and we will have enormous difficulties for the establishment of therapeutic measures.
And if, as the British study warns, at 4 and 11 years old children are weighed less often than they should be, we could be losing a simple and powerful diagnostic weapon: the scale.
One of the most important works carried out in the care of childhood and adolescence is to identify the critical periods that are associated with the risk of developing childhood obesity.
So far, three are identified:
- The first thousand days of life, counting the gestation period in the womb;
- Between 5 and 7 years old;
The period of 5 to 7 years of age seems to be the most important. This period is called “adipose rebound”: a physiological process that consists of storing reserves for the growth and development of puberty.
Currently, researchers know that many of the children who will develop obesity start to do so before age 6, with an early adipose rebound, so it is at that time that parents should focus their efforts.
If it is not detected at home, it is possible that it goes unnoticed in the consultation.
With the revisions, doctors try to find out if the child might be overweight and alert parents when they start to gain weight. Doctor visits can also detect habits or risk factors even though there is still no weight gain.
But, in fact, often it is not enough. For example, for a child who at 4 years old was well off and at 6 years of age has become overweight, any treatment offered by a doctor might prove to be too little, too late.
Childhood obesity is often an invisible problem for some parents who suffer from the same disease.
Pediatricians agree on a non-negligible factor that promotes childhood obesity is that many parents do not want to recognize that their child may be overweight.
Sometimes there is no motivation in the family to change things. During doctor visits, pediatricians tell parents that the child is overweight or obese, and most of the time they are surprised.
During a study, researchers analyzed the underestimation of childhood excess weight in a sample population of children 2 to 12 years old. They had surprising findings.
Some of the results indicate that 90% of parents of children between 2 and 4 years old with overweight or obesity thought that their children’s weight was normal.
In the case of adolescents, 63% of those who were overweight and 40% of those who were obese were identified as normal by their parents, reveals the study.
The same investigation revealed that mothers were more likely not to identify excess weight compared to their parents. Overweight or obese parents were also more likely to overlook it and families with higher educational levels and better income levels were better at identifying the problem.
According to the figures, solving this phenomenon, perhaps with a tool as simple as a household scale, could help solve the serious health problems caused by childhood obesity.
The case of diabetes is especially striking since its epidemiology was among older people, but nowadays we see more and more cases at younger ages.
The important thing is that “70% of cases of type 2 diabetes would be avoidable through a healthy lifestyle, but millions of people suffer from this disease.
The trend is worrisome. But can we even dream of changing it only with the use of a scale?
Technology also helps
The recommendation is to consult with a pediatrician at any time when parents perceive that the constitution of their child is changing for the worse or when they see that children have problems to maintain a healthy diet.
A good way to perceive the changes is to use technology in the form of applications, to monitor the growth and Body Mass Index of children, as well as to detect changes.
In any case, prevention always begins in a series of habits that are not always clear to families.
Managing an overweight child requires time, motivation and perseverance, but it is an investment worth doing: getting enough sleep, decreasing time in front of the screens, improving the quality and quantity of food hydrating, eating at least 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables a day, and restricting foods high in sugars and hydrogenated fats are some of them.
Parents must encourage outdoor activities, eating as a family, congratulating them when they make progress and motivating them to be active at least 60 minutes per day.
Finally, there is a very important psychological aspect in a society in which great importance is attached to the image.
It is usual to pre-judge people with obesity. Overweight children often suffer teasing and negative comments, and this is particularly damaging when it comes from other family members.
Children and adolescents who are overweight or obese have low self-esteem and are at greater risk of eating disorders and anxious-depressive disorders.
Therefore, we must remind them how much you love them, reinforce their positive qualities, reject jokes about their weight and avoid criticism.