Dealing with obesity in children
Obesity is a health condition that is making a covert incursion into the lives of millions of children around the world and in Nigeria, says Doctor Ayodele Renner, a Consultant Paediatrician. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines obesity as an excessive accumulation of fat that may impair health. In 2020, WHO also reported that 39 million children below the age of 5 years had obesity or were overweight.
If only these were just numbers, but they are not. They are actual children, who as a result of obesity may develop joint problems because of the excessive weight their joints must carry. They may have low self-esteem, as bullying is a common challenge suffered by obese children. They have an increased risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes as well as hypertension, which in turn may lead to stroke or a heart attack later in life.
The online health educator, also known as the noisynaijapaediatrician noted that while these effects may not be apparent in childhood, by the time such children reach their 40s these complications may lead to sudden death and complications that may impair their quality of life.
“Obesity in childhood is caused mainly by over nutrition. This means that the child is taking in more calories than they require or more than they can utilize. This leads to fat storage and accumulation.
“The consumption of foods containing high levels of refined sugar such as artificial fruit juices and soda, as well as processed and fast foods high in saturated fats like pastry and desserts, are also a significant contributor to the development of obesity in a child. A lack of exercise can also predispose a child to obesity. There are also hormonal problems that can cause obesity in childhood.”
The consultant paediatrician stressed, “it must be stated that with children it can be difficult to eliminate some of these foods from their diet entirely because some of them are consumed in social setting like children’s parties at school and are usually offered as treats. However they must be consumed in moderation or as little as possible.”
Obesity can be detected by measuring the weight for the child and comparing it to its height, this ideally should be done at every childcare visit. There are standard growth charts that can be used to plot the weight of the child to compare them to other children in the same age group for that population to see if they are abnormally heavy for their height and age.
In terms of management of obesity in children, Renner said a doctor would look out for the possible causes and treat them accordingly. For instance a paediatric endocrinologist may prescribe specific hormone treatments in situation where such a deficiency of such hormones may be causing obesity.
Physicians may also recommend life style modifications like a reduction in the consumption of processed foods, saturated fats, pastry, fast foods, sweets and sugar, eating more fruits and vegetables, and increasing exercise.