The rise of childhood obesity is a worldwide problem and a multi-faceted one at that.

According to a report released by the World Health Organisation in January 2016, the number of fat children is expected to balloon from 42 million in 2013 to 70 million by 2025.  Back home, the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) also stated an increase in obesity in schools – from 11 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2014.

While some of the weight gain is attributed to growth spurts which can cause a child to overeat and pile on the kilos, growth spurts alone cannot be blamed for the rise of childhood obesity cases. A high empty-calorie diet remains the top culprit, followed by the lack of physical activity.

School canteens often have processed foods and sweetened beverages within reach of the little ones. Parents and guardians think that their plump little darlings are “cute”, indulging them with sweets and snacks and spoiling them with car rides to and from school, tuition centres and the shopping mall, rather than walking or cycling the way. Parents and guardians also spoil them with gaming devices and smartphones, so instead of playing a game of tag with their peers, they much rather have their eyes glued to their gadgets.

But being a fat child is no child’s play.

According to Dr Ben Ng, an endocrinologist in private practice at Arden Endocrinology Specialist Clinic, childhood obesity has a lasting impact on adulthood, “There is no real cure for diabetes; so if and when complications develop at a young age, they tend to last an entire lifetime. Additionally, childhood obesity is a ticking bomb if left unchecked. Obese children are exposed to the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, which are diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol for a much longer duration than adults who become obese at adulthood. Obese children and adults also tend to suffer from psychological issues such as depression which may be triggered when peers with normal weight might poke fun at them or exclude them from social gatherings and mealtimes.”

In an online Straits Times article written by Salma Khalik dated 22nd of February 2016, the dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, Professor Chia Kee Seng projected that 34 percent of the population aged 24 to 35 this year could possibly be diabetic by the time they are 65.

To help curb obesity in your own children, there are three golden rules:

  • Encourage healthy eating habits – Be role models for your children, have regular meals with your children which include plenty of greens, fruits, whole-grain products, lean meats, poultry and fish so that they can develop their taste for nutritious food and reinforce these habits at school or when they are with their friends. Limit their consumption of sugar, sodium and saturated fats while encouraging them to drink lots of water instead of sweetened beverages.
  • Implement a daily exercise routine – Every child should engage in 60 to 90 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity daily such as swimming and relay games. Games of tag and rounders can be a lot of fun, so organise sleepovers and parties where cousins and classmates can join too.
  • Impose time-limits on recreational ‘screen time’ – Children should not spend more than two hours on their handheld gadgets or gaming consoles each day. Parents should place a greater emphasis on physical activities and playing outdoors. When children play in a group, they tend to pick up important social skills too.

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