Childhood Obesity: A Growing Concern

Childhood Obesity: A Growing Concern
By Family Flavours

Many children and teens gained weight during the pandemic. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more kids are obese or overweight globally than underweight. We consult with our experts about this alarming trend.

What are the potential short-term and long-term consequences of childhood obesity?
Dr Mona Choueiry, Paediatrician

Obesity in children can lead to serious medical conditions such as:
High blood pressure
Abnormal fat levels
Metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance associated with high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, obesity, and in some cases, liver disease and menstrual irregularities in girls)
Type 2 diabetes
Asthma
Sleep apnea (repeated disruption of normal breathing during sleep)
Skin infections
Back pain and pain in the knee, thigh and hip (often associated with a condition called slipped capital femoral epiphysis)
Liver disease, gallstones and inflammation of the pancreas
Menstrual abnormalities (irregular or missed periods)
Severe headaches with visual disturbances

There are also emotional consequences: Children who are obese have low self-esteem and feelings of shame about their bodies, which leads to poor academic performance. They are subject to bullying and teasing, may have trouble making new friends, may be the last chosen on a sports team or gym class and may feel lonely, unwanted anxious or depressed. They may be less likely to be admitted to a prestigious university, less likely to land a job, date or find a marriage partner. Let us not forget that kids and teens who are overweight or obese may find comfort in eating.

You can contact Dr Mona Choueiry at monachoueiry@gmail.com

How can I talk to my child about weight gain?
Haneen Mas’oud, Clinical Psychologist

Many parents face difficulties in limiting their children’s intake of food. Telling your child to stop overeating can make some parents feel guilty, as some children don’t understand the importance of healthy eating habits and that parents want what’s best for them. Here are a few tips to help make the process easier for you and your child:

You can avoid:
Words such as “fat”. Some children get bullied at school and are teased by their peers.They don’t need to hear the same words from their loved ones at home
Shaming your child for the extra weight by drawing comparisons to thinner children
Suggesting weight loss. You can encourage healthy eating habits by being your child’s role model and focusing on having a balanced and healthy lifestyle rather than on losing kilos and looking thinner

You can ensure that you:
Express your love for the way your child is, with extra weight or not
Speak with your child to encourage self-expression regarding thoughts and emotions and check eating triggers (while watching television or playing video games, when sad and so on). This will help your child make a connection between eating and feelings; you can thus discuss alternatives to deal with these feelings
Seek professional help if you feel that the situation is getting out of control

You can contact Haneen Mas’oud at Haneen0Masoud@gmail.com

Our child does not like to eat fruits and vegetables. What can we do?
Ayah Murad, Clinical Dietician & Pharmacist

Most children don’t like fruits and vegetables, which can be due to different reasons. Raw vegetables and some fruits like apples are hard to cut with teeth, especially for children at the changing teeth age – it can be painful. Children’s tastebuds are not well developed so the flavour of most fruits and vegetables is different for children
than adults. Energy-based meals, especially carbohydrates, fat, and mostly yoghurt, are more needed for children as they provide energy and aid with brain development; they are also easy to eat. Your child may favour bananas, for example, but dislike apples or broccoli.
How to present fruits and vegetables
Baking vegetables after cutting them into shapes (circles, triangles, cubes, hearts or even stars). Children love games so changing the shape and colours and telling them a story about fruits and vegtables will help them focus on the idea instead of on the flavour
Making jello mixed with fruit cuts and homemade fruit juice instead of ready-made jello
Baking fruits and adding cornflakes or granola on top, then seasoning them with small amounts of anise seeds

You can contact Ayah Murad at ayah.mazen.murad@googlemail.com

What is the role of schools in
obesity prevention?

The Royal Health Awareness Society (RHAS)

The number of children who are either obese or overweight has been increasing worldwide at an alarming rate due to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and the consumption of high fat and sugary foods. Schools can play a major and vital role in preventing childhood obesity as they contribute to children’s healthy behaviours that prevent obesity.
Schools have a role in passing on age-appropriate information about healthy nutrition and physical activity. They can build a students’ self-efficacy to make better choices through awareness sessions, activities and events
at school. Moreover, the meals and snacks offered and allowed at school determine a student’s choices during the day and build the habits they continue to follow at home. A class schedule that ensures adequate and engaging physical activity sessions and reduces sedentary time and encourages students to pursue an active lifestyle. Finally, teaching children healthy coping mechanisms and attending to their mental health through counselling and group awareness sessions reduces their chances of using food to cope with stress or emotional challenges and promotes their present and lifelong health.
Overall, schools are encouraged to offer an environment conducive to promoting healthy behaviours and choices. Working with students, parents, teachers and other school staff can create a healthy, enabling environment and prevent obesity. RHAS offers the Healthy Schools programme that ensures schools have the needed infrastructure, capacity and resources to promote student and staff health.
 For more information, visit www.rhas.org.jo