Child obe­sity:

Most par­ents be­lieve their child will lose their “puppy fat”, but, as Pro­fes­sor Ker­ryn Phelps re­veals, child­hood obe­sity is on the rise.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - Contents - AWW

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.

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