Did you know? Obesity and overweight prevalence continues to trend upwards. According to NHS statistics, the prevalence of obesity among adults between 18 and 69 years increased steadily from 5.1% in 1992 to 6.0% in 1998, and to 6.9% in 2004 (HPB Online, 2009)

preventing obesity in children

Why is obesity a concern?

Obesity predisposes to medical conditions in the later years. It increases the risk for diseases like Diabetes Mellitus, Hypertension, Strokes, Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, osteoarthritis and even certain cancers.

Why is childhood obesity more and more an issue now?

Compared to our forefathers, our lifestyles are a lot more sedentary. Both work and leisure tend to be less physical – we burn fewer calories. It doesn’t help that many children have overly hectic schedules that leave them with little time for physical play.

With greater affluence, the quality and quantity of food that we eat has also changed. These are usually higher in sugars and fats while lower in vitamins and fibre.

How do I tell if my child is growing normally? Is she overweight?

Parents can use the weight-for-height or the BMI charts (0-72months) that are available in the child’s Health Booklet for an idea of their child’s weight relative to the height. The Health Promotion Board has released data for a BMI-for-Age chart. It is useful for children aged 6 to 18 years of age.

Children whose BMI are between the 5th to 97th percentile are generally considered within the acceptable weight while those between the 90th to 97th percentile are overweight. Those above the 97th percentile are severely overweight. The latter 2 groups should be assessed to exclude any predisposing medical conditions.

getting children to eat more fruitsHow can I help my child eat more healthily?

Children mirror their parents’ behaviour. Spending time together especially at mealtimes allows parents to monitor eating habits and set appropriate examples. While grocery shopping, parents can take the opportunity to educate their children about nutrition. Make it interesting by helping them to understand the different types of food, how it is grown and cooked as well as how it affects our bodies. Children can be given healthy snack alternatives- parents can buy more fruits and nuts while refraining from less healthy snacks like potato chips, candy and instant noodles.

Let children experiment and experience a wider variety of foods. Learning to appreciate the different culinary traditions will also allow them to realize there’s more to food than burgers and fries.

getting children to exercise

How can I get my child to exercise more?

Children tend to become interested in sports that their parents play. At a young age, encourage your child to try as many sports and games as possible. They will not excel in all of them but this gives them the opportunity to discover their talents and interests. Aside from organized sports, they should also be given the opportunity for free play, to run and climb at playgrounds and fields. Put the emphasis on participation rather than winning.

Parents can make family outings more sports or play-oriented. They could for example all go cycling, swimming or rollerblading instead of window-shopping at the mall.

But they have so much homework and other tuition classes. How do I make time?

Homework and exams are the most common reasons given for failure to exercise. Unfortunately, this is a hard truth – there will never be enough time. Our children have homework now and this situation is unlikely to get better as they advance in the school system. There will be more projects and exams. Later in life, the obstacles will come in the form of work stress, client meetings and deadlines.

Perhaps more priority needs to be given to time management and to health – of the child, the family and the relationships within. I tell parents that a healthy child performs better all round. Starting them early on being disciplined about exercise and play, hopefully allows them to learn to multitask and be more efficient in their use of time, enabling them to develop this into a lifelong, healthy habit.

What can I do to prevent obesity to begin with?

Aside from encouraging physical play and a healthy diet, there are a few things concerned parents can do:

  • Limiting time spent in front of the TV or computer to 1-2 hours a day
  • Eliminate bad eating habits: eating while studying, watching TV, eating to cope with stress, eating between meals
  • Avoiding unhealthy food associations. Devise a reward system that does not depend on food. Instead, encourage exercise or positive behaviour. For example, the child could be rewarded with a new badminton racquet, rollerblades or given permission to play longer outdoors

Ultimately, difficult as it is, the family has to make a commitment to a healthy diet and lifestyle.

dr-vera-ohThis article is contributed by Dr Vera Oh, Paediatrician
Dr Oh is trained in paediatrics, with an interest in growth and endocrinology. She has over 15 years of medical experience and received her advanced training at Mount Sinai Medical Centre in U.S.A.

Contact Details:
SBCC Baby & Child Clinic
Growth & Endocrinology Centre
3 Mount Elizabeth, #12-14
Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre
Singapore 228510
Tel: 6732 2292
Email: info@sbcc.sg

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