Childhood obesity: when it’s considered a problem and how to avoid it

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Sedentary lifestyle and inadequate nutrition have triggered cases of childhood overweight. That is why it is essential to teach the little ones to eat well.

Childhood obesity when it's considered a problem and how to avoid it

It is estimated that today in the world there are about 500 million obese people, triple those who speak in the seventies of the last century, and since 1998 the WHO considers obesity a global epidemic.

CHILDHOOD OBESITY IN SPAIN

In Spain, 53.5% of the population between 25 and 60 years old is overweight. In 2022, the prevalence of childhood obesity among children in Spain already reached 18%, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

In childhood and adolescence, obesity is the most important metabolic disorder, as data indicate that today the number of obese children in Spain reaches 16%, a figure that has multiplied by three in the last 15 years. In addition, we must not forget that obesity increases the risk of suffering from up to 13 types of cancer and has negative effects on mental health.

WHAT IS OBESITY IN A CHILD?

When we talk about obesity, we refer to an excess of body fat that results from a positive energy balance, that is, from an income of calories higher than the expenditure of the same.

However, behind this simple conclusion there is a complex panorama that can only be explained from a biopsychosocial perspective.

The Spanish Society for the Study of Obesity (SEEDO) points out that changes in diet and new habits and lifestyle of developed societies are the definitive trigger, since the body is not endowed with sufficient control to deal with the excessive energy supply and the current sedentary lifestyle.

From this perspective of prevention, it is important to remember that, to a large extent, being obese or not is a matter of learning.

 CHILDHOOD OBESITY ACCORDING TO THE WHO

There are reference tables with data on the Body Mass Index, the result of dividing the weight in kg by the height in meters squared. However, in the case of children, age must be taken into account when defining overweight and obesity.

To establish whether there is obesity infantile, it is advisable to consult the WHO growth tables, which are broken down according to the age of the child.

In practice our “clinical eye” together with e! The pediatrician is essential, remembering that there are “critical periods of obesity that are located in the first year, before six and in adolescence.

HOW TO AVOID CHILDHOOD OBESITY

Dietary changes are essential, but within the framework of changing a global lifestyle.

Reinforcements to follow appropriate behaviors, creating an environment in which implementation is facilitated and family support are key elements in facilitating these much-needed changes.

  • The basic foods on which a healthy diet should be based include cereals, potatoes and legumes, vegetables, fruits, fish and meat (for those who do not follow an ovo-dairy-vegetarian diet model), dairy products (milk, fermented milks, cheeses) and eggs and small amounts of olive oil.
  • Reduce the consumption of foods rich in fats, especially saturated foods (ice cream, sausages, fried foods …), and opt for those that contain healthy fats (olive oil or oily fish).
  • Take complex carbohydrates (cereals and legumes) and limit sugar (pastries, soft drinks, candies …)
  • Do not abuse protein foods.
  • Introduce generous amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables daily.
  • Children have great nutritional needs and their digestive capacity is still maturing, so it is advisable to divide the meal of the day in 4 or 5 doses.
  • It is also vital to respect the schedules, as this favors digestion and absorption of nutrients, and consolidates a healthy habit.
  • The best strategies are to offer an environment in which natural foods are appreciated, that parents serve as a model of healthy habits, not provide them with undesirable products, teach them to taste what they eat and explain stories or arguments that exemplify the relationship between food and health.
  • It is important to reduce television hours, avoid elevators and if possible, walk to school, perform structured and well-directed physical activities, such as swimming, running, dancing, cycling, etc.
  • It is also necessary for the family to adopt an active lifestyle and for the child to perform small household chores.

WHAT CHILDREN SHOULD NOT EAT

The latest statistical data indicate that 3% of Spanish children do not eat breakfast, 11% do so with industrial pastries every day, and only 59% take a second serving of fruit and 34% a second of vegetables, when 2 daily servings of each of these basic food groups would be the minimum recommended amount.

Pastries contain large amounts of sugar and fat; and, forming the basis of them, we find refined flours. All this results in high-calorie products and few vitamins and minerals, an “empty calorie bomb”.

They also usually include additives, colors and artificial preservatives.

In the fast-food model, the overload falls on fats and proteins, being a type of diet deficient in some vitamins and minerals, and in fiber.

French fries and soft drinks complete a picture as appetizing and attractive to many as caloric and unhealthy, especially if taken frequently.

It is a paradoxical situation because, while the health authorities express their concern about weight gain among the child population, the media emit messages that associate success, being strong or having friends with the consumption of unhealthy foods.

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