“Child hunger and child obesity are really just two sides of the same coin. Both rob our children of the energy, the strength and the stamina they need to succeed in school and in life. And that, in turn, robs our country of so much of their promise.” Michelle Obama
A research, published in The Lancet medical journal, pulled together data from 31.5 million children and teenagers aged five to 19 who took part in more than 2,000 studies. It discovered that universally, the estimated number of obese children and teenagers had risen 10-fold in the previous four decades.
Between 1975 and 2016 the number of obese boys in the world increased from six million to 74 million, while a similar trend for girls exhibited a growth from five to 50 million. Girls in Ireland ranked 79th globally for obesity, while boys ranked 98th. Though obesity in adults is measured simply using Body Mass Index (BMI), identifying it in children is more complex. The study authors used a WHO statistical method that looks at levels of deviation from a “normal” average. Children become overweight and obese for a variety of reasons. The most common causes are genetic factors, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of these factors.
In most cases surplus weight is due to overeating and under-exercising. Children need extra calories to fuel their growth and development; if they have taken in the appropriate amount of calories, they should add pounds in proportion to their growth. But if they consume more calories than they’re burning off, the result will be unnecessary weight gain. Childhood obesity is almost always a result of a number of factors working together to increase risk. These include:
Diet: Regular eating of high-calorie foods, such as takeout food, biscuits and other baked goods; fizzy minerals, sweets and crisps contribute to weight gain. Snacking is another large culprit.
Absence of physical activity: Computers, mobile phone, tablets, television, and video games collaborate to keep children inside and inactive. This means they burn fewer calories and are more likely to put on weight. Worries about the safety of playing outside and a dependence on cars instead of walking does not help either.
Environment: If a child opens up the fridge or kitchen cabinets and is greeted by bags of crisps, chocolate, etc., then that’s likely what they will eat. Equally, if you keep your fridge stocked instead with healthy and tasty cut-up fruits and veggies (berries, carrots, red pepper strips) low-fat yogurt and higher-fibre granola bars, then they will go for the healthier food (rather than eat nothing at all).
Psychological factors: Like adults, some children may turn to food as a coping mechanism for dealing with problems, like stress, anxiety, or boredom. Children struggling to cope with a divorce or a death in the family may eat more than usual as a result.
Genetics: Some children are born into a family where obesity already exists, they then may be genetically predisposed to the condition, particularly if high-calorie food is readily available and physical activity is not promoted.
Socioeconomic factors: Parents may lack the time, skill and resources necessary to purchase/prepare healthy foods as fast foods are becoming cheaper and more readily available.
Medical conditions: Although not widespread, there are certain genetic diseases and hormonal disorders that can affect a child and cause obesity, such as hypothyroidism,Prader-Willi syndrome, cardiovascular disease insulin resistance, which is often a sign of impending diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and even sone cancers such as colon, breast and endometrial.
The number of overweight or obese infants and young children (aged 0 to 5 years) increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 41 million in 2016. The vast majority of overweight or obese children live in developing countries, where the rate of increase has been more than 30% higher than that of developed countries.
Without intervention, obese infants and young children will likely continue to be obese during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.