When it comes to food, usually flavour and palatability score the highest on taste buds and its nutritional value the lowest; not just for adults but for children as well. Try bartering a homemade healthy meal with some burger or pizza with a kid and you will land in dismay. Over the past decades, the vast accessibility and consumption of calorie-laden foodstuffs augmented with sedentary behaviours have cleared the way for childhood obesity than ever. Moreover, we too sometimes fail to draw the line between being healthy or being obese for our children.
Embryonically, “weight gain due to excessive or abnormal fat accumulation posing a health risk is overweight or obese”. To make matters worse, obesity has tripled since 1975 and for children aged 5-19, figures were 340 million for 2016 as per WHO statistics. In 2019, 38 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese.
At the launch of Oman Obesity Briefing Book in September 2021; Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Saeedi, Minister of Health, said, “The Sultanate of Oman faces a growing rise in the burden of obesity among its population. More than half of the Omani population are now overweight or obese with 30 per cent of the population having a BMI of more than 30.”
Ease of access and keenly priced ready-to-eat foodstuffs, irregular meals, impulsive snacking, increased food portions, long sitting hours, lack of interest in outdoor sports, gaming and other online activities have created an ‘obesogenic environment’ for children. Pandemic-driven online mode of education has only twisted the knife in the wound.
Staying entirely in an air-conditioned environment is also responsible for the bulge as the body has to make less effort to adjust to surrounding temperature thereby burning fewer calories. Moreover, cozy temperatures also lead to a rise in appetite during summers. Not to mention, food has been the source to seek comfort for mankind under stressful conditions for ages and the same goes with kids. This means that often they are eating not out of hunger but out of emotions which is termed emotional eating; another contributing factor towards childhood obesity.
What is more, is future relationships and career prospects additionally affected for obese and overweight children leading to financial and emotional burdens in society.
The clock is constantly ticking and we need to raise awareness among the masses to adopt healthier life choices. These include promoting healthy eating in schools that are less fattening and more nourishing, encouraging cycling and walking options for commuters, active participation in sports activities, and liaising with the food industry to reduce energy and fat content as well as proper labeling of food products.
Advertising has a tremendous effect on grooming eating habits in children and adolescents. Hence nutritious foods must be presented in luring ways and restrictions must be placed on marketing junk food. Most of us are unaware but foods that are labelled as ‘low fat’ are still energy-dense (high in calorie count and less in nutrient value) and this is a serious concern. We need to understand the fact that prevention is always the right choice rather than waiting for the worse to happen and then landing inactive and panic mode. The former has always been easier to practice than the latter.
The good news is health risks associated with obesity are largely reversible by making lifestyle changes emphasising lowering body weight and increasing physical activity. High time we start working on it!