Most parents believe their child will lose their “puppy fat”, but, as Professor Kerryn Phelps reveals, childhood obesity is on the rise.
Dr Kerryn Phelps discusses the causes and management
Bariatric surgery, or surgery to achieve weight loss by reducing the size of the stomach, is now being performed on obese children and adolescents. Surely this is an admission that the battle against childhood obesity is being lost?
One in nine New Zealand children is obese and another 21 per cent are overweight, so this is an epidemic. Children are now suffering the consequences of obesity previously only seen in older adults, such as sleep apnoea, orthopaedic problems, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes.
There are also the less obvious impacts of obesity, such as low self-esteem, less involvement in sport and experiencing bullying and discrimination. More subtle, but no less important, are micro-nutrient deficiencies like iron, zinc and vitamins in children who do not eat a balanced diet containing plenty of fruit, vegetables and other wholefoods.
Children who take obesity into adulthood have an increased risk of chronic disease and early death.
How did it come to this?
The real explanation is probably a perfect storm of circumstances. Computer games and mobile devices have replaced playtimes building cubby houses in the bush, climbing trees, or playing games on the beach. Backyards have become smaller and the car has become the quick alternative to walking to school. And advertising of junk foods has become part of children’s TV programming.
What you need to do
If your child is overweight or obese, or rapidly gaining weight, your doctor will need to investigate for a treatable medical cause. You cannot prevent or treat obesity in children without involving the whole family. If your child’s being overweight is related to their nutrition and activity levels, much of the remedy lies with parents.
If you do the food shopping, decide what to keep in the fridge or the kitchen cupboards. If you have high-fat, high-sugar, low-nutrient value food in the house, a hungry or bored child will sniff it out like a heat-seeking missile. If none is at hand, they might opt for nothing, or if offered a healthy snack, they’ll eventually take that option.
As a parent, you can also limit screen time and encourage team sports and active play.
The solution to the obesity epidemic starts in the home.