Overcoming Childhood Obesity Starts with Positive Nutrition and Ample Exercise
Dr. John Agwunobi, Co-President and Chief Health and Nutrition Officer, Herbalife Nutrition
Obesity rates among children are on the rise across Asia Pacific. With rising income levels, changing lifestyles and diets, the problem of childhood obesity does not seem to be going away anytime soon.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), almost half of all overweight children under the age of five live in Asia. The UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that between 2000 and 2016, the number of overweight children under the age of five in the region rose 38 percent, and this number is growing more rapidly in Asia than in many other countries around the world. This poses a serious problem, since overweight children are at a higher risk of becoming obese when they enter adulthood, and developing health problems like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and liver disease.
Today, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand are among the countries with the highest rates of childhood obesity in Southeast Asia. Studies conducted by the Nutrition Society of Malaysia revealed that almost 30 percent of children and teenagers between the age of six and 17 in Malaysia are either overweight or obese.
Adding to the list, recent studies by UNICEF, ASEAN and WHO concluded that one in eight Indonesian children are overweight, while in Singapore, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH), 13 percent of children in mainstream schools were overweight in 2017, up from 11 percent in 2011. Separately, in Thailand, the National Statistics Office and the National Economic and Social Development board found that close to 11 percent of children under the age of five were overweight or obese in 2016.
These numbers point to a severe problem that highlights the need for parents in the region to keep closer tabs on their children’s weights, lifestyles and eating habits, to get them on the right track to stride confidently and healthily into adulthood.
While the problem of childhood obesity has become increasingly common, it is also an issue that can be prevented through a combination of proper nutrition and ample exercise. This August, as you get your child ready for the back to school season, keep these five tips on hand to help them live healthier and more active lives.
Tip #1: Be a role model for your child
Parents serve as role models through direct interactions with their children and the examples that they set with their attitudes and behaviour. Set the standard for your family’s healthy lifestyle by planning days for healthy eating and exercise as a family, to encourage everyone to embark on the path towards a healthy life together. After all, it is more fun do this as a family than going at it alone.
Tip #2: Reduce your child’s fat intake
It is important to note that parents should never put their child on a restrictive diet, as this could lead to long-term issues like eating disorders and result in obesity later in life. Instead, try reducing your child’s fat intake by using less oil in cooking and making healthier snacks more easily available, to reduce your child’s calorie intake without making him or her feel overly hungry.
Tip #3: Use balanced nutrition principles as a guide
When it comes to nutrition, the ideal calorie composition should comprise 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent healthy fats, coupled with 25 grams of fiber and eight glasses of water per day. To encourage your child to get into the rhythm of eating healthy, get creative with the way you cook by blending vegetable into sauces.
It goes without saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A healthy and nutritious breakfast will give your child the energy and nutrients needed to jump-start his or her day. It will also help prevent your child from getting hungry too early in the day and turning to snacks before lunchtime hits.
Tip #5: Exercise together as a family
With school, homework and extracurricular activities, children’s schedules can fill up quickly, making it tough to fit in exercise. However, adequate physical activity is key for a child to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Children should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to intense activity each day, of a kind hat suits their physical development.
Above all, remember that children learn by example. Thus, the best way to encourage physical activity among children is to get active as a family. Make it a habit to set aside 20 minutes a day to take a leisurely walk in the park or organise active family activities on weekends like cycling, hiking and ball games. This will make exercising less of a chore for your child and makes for an excellent opportunity for family bonding.
When it comes to obesity, prevention is always better than cure, and this is especially so when problems involving obesity tend to worsen as one gets older. Thus, it is crucial for us to work together to inculcate healthy and active living habits among children from an early age to keep childhood obesity at bay.