Friday, July 22, 2011

Childhood Obesity

It is a very controversial topic! In my lifetime, I have seen many chidren who doctors and healthcare professionals would quickly deem as "morbidly obese".  Here in The Bahamas, obesity is rampant and plagues more than 65% of our population. This is bad, but far worse, is the fact that an increasing amount of children are also in this category. It has been said that MORE THAN HALF of the country's children are overweight.

Growing up, I've known and encountered many kids who were extremely overweight and the normal response to any weight related comment by older family and friends was either, "They'll outgrow it!" or "Eat chile!, Nothin' wrong with seein' healthy lookin' children!" All the while I'm going,  "Are these people clinically insane?" There can't be one normal person who thinks a 380lb 13 year old looks or even is... "healthy"! We do all want healthy, energetic children but do we encourage them in gluttony for our own distorted satisfaction?

Oftentimes,  the parents who see nothing wrong with this are overweight or obese themselves! I feel as though a parent who watches their weight, eats a decent, balanced diet, exercises and takes health seriously will never want their child to go down the opposite road of physical discomfort, ridicule and poor self-esteem. More often than not, they won't because they have emulated their parents' good habits as well as the fact that junk food is not abundantly eaten at home. Food does not become an emotional attachment. Sadly for most, it is not the child's fault. They have only done what they see others doing and no one is there to stop the chain reaction.

The negative effects of childhood obesity are long-lasting and sometimes irreversible. Just naming a few are:

  • Poor self-image.
  • Constant teasing and ridicule by peers and almost anyone not used to seeing a heavy child. 
  • Poor self-esteem because of the above which can cause bad decision making and erratic behavior. 
  • Depression/suicide.
  • Love/hate relationship with food ( Live to eat vs. eat to live mentality) leading to eating disorders.
  • Physical ailments which come along with excess fat and stress on the body such as pain in joints/knees/back, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, as a child then spilling into adulthood.  
  • Considering we live in a tropical country with heat in excess of 90 degrees, constant perspiration, body odour, acne and chaffing.
  • Inability to find proper fitting clothing and looking out of sorts many times as a result. 
  • More than likely, weight problems as an adult.
  • Excessive loose skin even after weight is lost requiring major cosmetic surgery (lots of $$$) to correct. 

In my opinion, parents who nonchalantly allow this to happen are passively (or actively) killing their own kids whether they know it or not and should be held accountable to a certain degree. A very hot topic now in some states of the U.S and Canada, lawmakers are calling for children like these to be taken away from their homes and placed in government care! I would never agree with that because we all make mistakes and many adults can barely take full control of their own lives, much less their childrens'.  Modern parents have very hectic schedules and are not always around to ensure their kids eat the right things but should know at least, that they did their part in providing it for them. Children sometimes eat things that aren't so good for them as a way of drowning pain in other parts of their lives and may need therapy to better express their feelings and get things off their chests.

Believe it or not, some parents of overweight or obese children are quite successful in their professions, are wealthy and can afford all of the resources available to help their child but choose to ignore it, holding on to the fairy tale in their own heads that their lives are perfect. Taking into consideration all of the negative effects listed above, I would say this should be called child abuse. Although in parts of Africa, fat is considered a beautiful thing and young girls are forced-fed (physically forced to drink porridge to the point of regurgitation), this is taboo in western society. Fat is looked down upon and shown to bring about poor quality of life.

The child is at his/her most vulnerable stage in life and needs to be guided in the right direction until they are able to make sound choices of their own. I have two young children and at the very onset of weight gain, I definitely would notice. As time progresses, you know whether or not it's simply a growth spurt or a real problem you have on your hands. It is not that hard to monitor what a child eats out of your own refrigerator or cupboards and if necessary, to hide the things that you don't want them eating. It is not that difficult to remove soda and kool-aid from the fridge and replace with water or sweeten with Splenda. It is not that hard to make your child get off their behinds for 30 minutes to an hour a few times a week and do something physical as opposed to sitting at the computer or glued to reality TV the entire time the're at home, minus bathroom and bedtime. It is not so bad to sit down and talk with your child about the purpose of food and the many wonderful, healthy and satisfying foods that God created in abundance for us all to enjoy.  Kids are really smart these days, as we all know. Just by simply telling my son that hotdogs (his old favourites) are not "real" food and are the mechanically processed, fake version of real sausage, he now refuses them and I now have to tell him that they're fine... in moderation.  It's amazing how you can direct or deter a child's actions by the words you choose!

Today's busy society has made life much more chaotic and seemingly difficult to control but when you put your mind on the things that ARE really important, it becomes easier. More important than the latest smartphone or when the next shopping trip is, is our children's health. They are the generation that are here to take care of us. They are today and tomorrow.

If you have a child with a weight problem or know someone who does, start by simply pointing out to them the difference between real foods and processed. Teach them to look for foods closest to their natural state try to make it a fun activity for the whole family. Get them more involved at the grocery store in choosing the best options and teach them that instead of looking for pretty packaging, learn to read labels instead. In order to do this though, we must first teach ourselves what to look for. The main things to scan are calorie count, fat grams, carbohydrates, sodium, sugars and fiber and then of course, vitamins the food contains. By comparing a pack of nuts to a box of chocolate chip cookies, you can easily show how much healthier one is than the other.  We must also realize that although healthier foods are more costly at purchase, the price is far less in the long run and there are ways to bargain shop for more wholesome foods. Remember that when we buy healthier, we tend to eat less and need smaller portions because the food is more satisfying because of it's high high nutrient content.

On the flip side, there is no need to completely deprive your child of tasty treats  from time to time that are a bit unhealthy. Some of the best memories from childhood are those of eating something so delicious that couldn't stop yourself! I remember cotton candy, ChiK-O-Stics and over sweetened frozen cups from my best childhood friend's house for $0.25. Those were the good ole' days! Balance is the key. Your child/ren will thank you for it later on.

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