According to the Harvard School of Public Health, about 43 million preschoolers (i.e. children under 5 years old) globally were either overweight or obese in 2010. This number is a 60 percent jump from the data gathered 10 years ago. Child obesity affects all cultures and social classes. Of the 43 million children who are overweight or obese, the same article reports that about 35 million live in developing countries. This rise is perhaps caused by a change in behavior caused by the access to better technology. Unlike in earlier eras, kids these days live a more sedentary lifestyle.
Obesity isn’t just dangerous for adults; it can also negatively affect young children in many ways. If you thought serious health conditions like high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and high cholesterol are just for old people… think again! There have been cases of kids who developed these diseases early in life. Obese and overweight kids have a higher risk of developing other illnesses like insulin resistance, bone, and joint problems, breathing problems, sleep disorders, fertility problems for girls, liver problems, and gall bladder disease in the long run.
Apart from these health risks, obesity can also bring down a child’s self-esteem. Self-confidence can take quite a beating when kids are being bullied, rejected, or teased by classmates in school. This can cause more problems like depression, development of eating disorders (e.g. anorexia nervosa or bulimia), or substance abuse like drug addiction or alcoholism.
The key to maintaining a healthy weight for kids is to keep them physically active. Here are some tips on how to protect your child against a global epidemic that is obesity:
Keep computer, TV, and video game time controlled.
Social networking sites and newer, more sophisticated video games have recently caught the youth by storm. This is apart from the cable television shows that keep them engaged all day. All these distractions have caused kids today to spend long hours in front of the TV or computer and much less time outside playing traditional games with real playmates. As the parent, you should set ground rules on TV and computer usage. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you limit your child’s time in front of a screen to 2 hours maximum per day. The AAP also mentions that children below 2 years should not be made to watch TV at all.
Allow kids more play time outside.
Let them run around, play games like hide and seek, “luksong baka,” or “patintero” with their playmates outside for at least an hour every day. These games provide a great cardio workout to keep their lungs and heart in tip-top shape. Children can get all the physical activity they need from running, jumping, climbing, crawling, and tumbling around in the backyard. Just make sure they are supervised by an adult so that they don’t get harmed or injured. If your child shows interest in an organized activity, like gymnastics, for example, ensure that you do not push them too hard to the point where they feel pressured to perform well.
Keep the whole family active.
This tip works hand in hand with the fact that obesity is genetic. Studies have shown that if at least one of the parents is obese, the risk of obesity for a child greatly increases. This is why the entire family has to set a good example for the child. Go play with the kids in their own games, and you’ll find yourself sweating out all those excess calories as well!
Exercise not only keeps child obesity away from your young one, it also improves his overall health in so many ways. Here are some of the benefits your child can get from leading an active lifestyle:
His cardiovascular system is stronger. With regular exercise, the heart muscles become stronger than ever and the heart becomes a lean mean pumping machine. The likelihood of getting heart disease later on in adulthood is much lower.
His blood flow to all bodily systems improves. This encourages better transportation of oxygen and other nutrients to the different parts of the body, especially to the brain. This means that he can focus, analyze, and better recall his lessons in school.
He develops a stronger immune system. Contrary to what some parents think, vigorous physical activity actually helps a child’s body fight disease better.
He lowers his blood pressure and cholesterol levels. His insulin sensitivity also increases, which lowers incidence of type-2 diabetes.
He becomes more flexible. Flexibility is the ability to move your body in full range of motion without feeling tightness or pain.
He maintains a lean figure. Having a fairly average figure (neither fat nor thin) makes him less likely to be teased or bullied in school because of his weight. This has a significant impact on a child’s self-image.
His mood becomes brighter. Exercise actually triggers the brain to release hormones that can make one feel happy and optimistic. This chemical is called endorphin.
He has more energy. Since oxygen and nutrients are distributed more efficiently with improved blood flow, his cells are nourished and ready for the day’s adventures.
The quality of his sleep is improved. It is in good quality sleep that he gets to grow and develop faster.