The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that of the 43 million children worldwide that are overweight or obese, 81% of them live in developing countries. The number is expected to reach upwards of 60 million over the next ten years.
Here are some facts on the global epidemic of childhood obesity, and a few helpful tips on kicking the fat habit.
A is for A.S.A.P.
Teaching healthy nutrition early is essential. The health of an adult is largely dictated by his eating habits as a baby, or, as most doctors will argue, their diets in-utero. The New England Journal of Medicine states that 25 to 30 % of adult obesity cases in the U.S. began in childhood. While they recognize that this number seems small, they emphasize its importance, stating, “Early childhood [heaviness] that persists into adulthood is associated with more severe obesity among adults.” Furthermore, a November 2010 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition cited evidence that childhood obesity can start as early as six months of age. But how can obesity begin so quickly?
"What we have seen in developing countries is that the offer of food is moving towards highly refined, industrial foods which often have very high content of sugar and fat," says Francesco Branca, WHO director of nutrition for health and development. The proportion of young children who are overweight or obese has increased about 60% in the past 20 years, according to the WHO. They estimate that of the 43 million children worldwide who are overweight or obese, 81% of them live in developing countries. Furthermore, this number is expected to reach 60 million within the next decade.
Contrary to the popular saying, “You’re still young, you can eat whatever you want”, the eating habits of a child tend to spill over into adult life, which means that what you feed your child today carries heavy implications on their future health. If you think it’s hard to change your kids’ eating habits now, imagine how much harder it will be for them as a diabetic or hypertensive twenty-five year old, frequently being surrounded by their peers eating lots of cake and greasy French fries. Early vigilance in healthy eating can lead to better food choices in your child’s future. Most importantly, lead by example. Nothing is worse than “Do as I say, not as I do” when it comes to teaching proper nutrition.
If you’re thinking about having kids, make sure your health is in tip-top-shape well before trying to get pregnant. Poor pre-natal health has been repeatedly shown to cause long-term negative health effects, from autism to heart disease to digestive disorders. Branca also points out that poor nutrition among mothers often resulted in newborns with low birth weight ( <2.5 kg or 5.51 pounds), who were vulnerable to becoming overweight later in life. He explains that children with very low birth weight are less able to handle high energy density food.