Tackle Childhood Obesity - Shebni Hameed, Clinical Dietitian & Nutrition Specialist @Universal

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Childhood obesity has emerged as a major health challenge around the globe.  According to the World Health Organization, 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2016.  Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016.  In the UAE, 36 percent of children are obese.

Obesity has several effects on a child's health and is a leading cause of death around the world. Obese children have an increased risk as adults for strokes, coronary artery disease, hypertension and diabetes, which will lead to a decreased quality of life and a shortened lifespan.

Overweight and obese children are likely to remain obese into adulthood and face problems such as depression and bullying, which can further decrease children's self-esteem and mental well-being.

Childhood obesity is a result of a number of factors working together.  Although there are some genetic or hormonal causes, in most cases excess weight is due to overeating and under-exercising. Children require extra calories to fuel their growth and development.  If they take in the appropriate amount of calories, they should add pounds in proportion to their growth. But if they consume more calories than they are burning off, the result will be unnecessary weight gain. 

 Unhealthy options  and regular consumption of high-calorie foods, like fast food, cookies and other baked goods, soda, candy, chips and vending machine snacks contribute to weight gain.  If a child opens up the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets and is greeted by bags of chips, candy bars and microwave pizza, then that’s likely what they will eat. Similarly, if you keep your fridge stocked instead with tasty cut-up fruits and veggies (berries, baby carrots, red pepper strips) with low-fat ranch dip, low-fat yogurt and hummous dip , then they will go for the healthier fare (rather than eat nothing at all).

Mobile phones, computers, television, and video games conspire to keep kids sedentary, which means they burn fewer calories and are more likely to gain weight. Also, concerns about the safety of outside play and a reliance on cars instead of walking – even to the corner store – don’t help matters. By preschool age, many kids are already lacking enough activity, which often translates into poor exercise habits later in life.

Unfortunately today’s children are more interested in playing on their PlayStation or Xbox rather than playing with their friends outside in the fresh air. Even worse than this most parents are allowing this to happen. Every child needs their down time to play their computer games but there must be an even balance of that with exercise and physical, extra-curricular activity.

Participating in school Physical Education in the UAE once a week is not substantial enough to combat the sedentary lifestyle and eating habits of a large majority of children in the UAE.

 Kids in the UAE should exercise for at least a total of 1 hour every day.  It does not have to be in one go. How they do it doesn’t matter just as long as they get moving! Get up and move…. ride the bike to school….walk the dog ….. or play with friends. 

Running, jumping, rolling, catching, swimming it’s all exercise !!  
Childhood Obesity can be prevented.

Shebni Hameed 
Clinical Dietitian & Nutrition Specialist


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