New approaches to childhood obesity

METABOLIC SYNDROME, sometimes referred to as insulin resistance syndrome, is a term used for the group of various medical conditions including obesity, elevated blood pressure and high fasting blood glucose levels. It is associated with the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Approximately 25 per cent of the world’s adult population exhibit the cluster of risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome, and one of the highest risk factors leading to adult metabolic syndrome is childhood obesity.

Childhood obesity has reached epidem

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ic levels in many developing countries as well as in most developed countries. In the UK, 28 per cent of children aged 2 to 15 are at least overweight and half of those are obese. Childhood obesity can have a serious impact on a child’s health, both physically and mentally. It may affect their social and emotional well-being, and obesity is associated with lower self-esteem and bullying, despite it becoming more common.

A recent report by the NHS has shown that many parents of overweight children wrongly thought their child was a healthy weight – 91 per cent of mothers of overweight children and 48 per cent of mothers of obese children. Factors that impact obesity, both in childhood and adulthood, are complex. They include environmental factors, socioeconomic status, lifestyle preferences, and the culture around you. The study looked at 60 000 children and their parents from all over the country, and tried to identify problems in tackling childhood obesity. Although the root causes of obesity can be hard to challenge, spotting the problem early is key in healthcare.

A 2007 report in the New England Journal of Medicine showed how obesity can spread through a social circle. Both adults and children are less likely to acknowledge their own weight gain if those around them are obese. There is also the key factor of denial: parents don’t want to accept that there may be a problem. Simply telling a child they are fat is not the solution, however, as this can lead to stress, comfort eating or ill-informed diet options. In fact, the children are likely to be aware that they are overweight, even when the parents fail to notice. A better approach is education. Lessons in cooking and nutrition are becoming more common in schools, along with better food labeling standards. A study from the University of Michigan last year taught children and teenagers about how fast food companies use advertising to manipulate your desires, and disguise their poor nutritional content.

It turns out that being informed about your choices leads to better decision making. The junk food market is manipulative and targets young children in its ad campaigns. Simply informing young people of the unfair practices of the food industry can lead them to making their own decisions in an almost social justice-oriented, rather than focussing efforts on diet or weight-loss. Healthy habits are important at a young age, and of course parents should lead by example. Early intervention to prevent childhood obesity can have a very positive impact on future health.

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