The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Sunday, 19 September 2021, 07:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Rebecca Caruana

September is dedicated to National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. This month provides all of us to learn more about the serious health conditions that obesity can lead to. It is also important to note that childhood obesity is a major public health problem. Being overweight so young predisposes children to lifelong complications. That is why early intervention is essential. In fact, being obese at a very young age will increase the risk of high blood pressure, sleep apnoea and type II Diabetes


How to prevent childhood obesity

A healthy diet is fundamental not only for adults but also for children to get all required nutrients they require for a healthy growth and development aiding them to reach a healthy and ideal weight. A healthy diet is a diet which is rich in vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and low fat or fat free dairy. Yet many parents and guardians find it hard to introduce fruits and vegetables to their children. According to studies it is recommended to introduce five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, from an early age and the first thing in the morning with breakfast or as a morning snack. It is also recommended that parents and/or guardians do not blend fruits and vegetables to try to hide them in other foods. Balance is important in life and fruits and vegetables should not be eaten to be rewarded with sweets afterwards. In fact, nutritionists recommend that sweets and fruits should be given together to create a balanced and interesting dessert for children. Yet one should bear in mind that children under the age of two should have no added sugar in their diets while children over two should keep sugars to less than around 10% of their daily calories. One way of reducing sugar intake is by avoiding soft drinks, juices, flavoured milk and/or cereals.

It goes without saying that exercise is fundamental for our health. It is recommended that children do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. In fact, children who are physically active have stronger muscles and better cardiovascular health. Exercise not only helps to lower overall body fat but also promotes stronger bones while reducing the risk of depression and other mental problems. Exercise should replace time spent in front of screens such as mobiles, televisions, computers and tablets. Spending too much screen time leads to poor sleep, increase in weight, poor school performance as well as a decline in mental health function. In order to promote sleep a no-technology use should be introduced one hour before bedtime.

Good sleep is fundamental in order to reduce Type 2 diabetes, obesity, poor mental health problems and attention and behavioural problems. Children who are 6-12 years old need 9-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night while 13-18-old teenagers need 8-10 hours. Interrupted sleep is linked to obesity mainly because inadequate sleep can lead to increased food intake and less physical activity. Therefore, setting a consistent sleep schedule is fundamental even at weekends.

When youths become overweight, the disorder often persists throughout adulthood. Yet it is also important to note that the above-mentioned interventions, which promote a healthier weight, are much more effective in children and youths than adults, underlining the importance of acting earlier rather than later. 

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