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Kids' obesity a global threat Dec. 31, 2012
Written by: Marilyn Linton, QMI Agency
 
Predict and prevent early, say researchers

(FOTOLIA)

Are your kids too chubby? According to the Childhood Obesity Foundation, 1.6 million Canadian children are considered overweight or obese. And we are not alone. A recent report, called the Global Burden of Disease, indicated that obesity has overtaken hunger around the world as the biggest threat to global health. So now that the holiday cookies have all been eaten, it’s time to get kids on track nutritionally.

The above-mentioned report which compared data from the last 20 years showed a worldwide 82 % increase in obesity - meaning an increase in diseases such as early type 2 diabetes, heart and circulatory disease as well as other ailments caused by carrying too much weight.

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The good news is that obesity can be prevented, says Dr. Jonathan Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, who is involved in a massive research study called TARGet Kids! The program (a collaborative effort between his hospital, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, and various participating children’s clinics) follows children from birth with the aim of understanding and preventing common problems that can impact their health later on.

“We know that children who are obese are likely to be adolescents who are obese and adults who are obese. We know that obesity can be prevented, but we don’t know much about how to do that,” says Dr. Maguire, adding that diets just don’t work. “If we can understand why one child becomes obese and another child does not, maybe we can develop tools and interventions to keep kids from being obese before it starts.”

Already, 5,500 Canadian children are involved in the program (check it out at www.targetkids.ca) which is studying not only obesity but also iron deficiency, and the impact of vitamin D on colds and asthma in kids. Early results on the study’s obesity arm have already shown that screen time is associated with the development of obesity in kids: Limiting TV and computer time is a step that parents can take to help their kids, Dr. Maguire says.

In fact, research elsewhere indicates that the risk of childhood obesity can be predicted almost at birth. A recent study published in the online journal PLOS ONE found that a simple formula can predict whether a baby is likely to become obese.

The formula looks at the baby’s birth weight, the number of people in the household, the body mass index of the parents, and whether or not the mother smoked during pregnancy. Professor Philippe Froguel, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, led the study and says that dietitians and psychologists could be offered to families with high-risk infants.

“Unfortunately, public prevention campaigns have been rather ineffective at preventing obesity in school-age children,” he told ScienceDaily, an online news service. “Teaching parents about the dangers of over-feeding and bad nutritional habits at a young age would be more effective.” Canada’s Childhood Obesity Foundation asks parents to follow the 5-2-1-0 rule to help prevent childhood obesity. Simply put, that means five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day, two hours of screen time or less per day, one hour or more of physical activity per day, and no sugar sweetened beverages ever.

“Imagine if we could prevent childhood obesity, if we could put a dent into why kids get asthma, if we could reduce iron deficiency and some of the other most common health issues of childhood. That is what we are trying to do with TARGet Kids!,” says Dr. Maguire who adds that understanding early influences can result in interventions for prevention of conditions such as obesity. “It’s so very important to understand the health of our children because they are our future.”

Chubby chasers

According to the Childhood Obesity Foundation (www.childhoodobesityfoundation.ca), families can do the following to prevent childhood obesity:

Lead by example. Learn about healthy eating and active living and take the time to help your child achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Eat most meals at home and eat as many meals as possible together.

Make sure portion sizes are age-appropriate. Avoid ordering super-sized foods when eating out.

Don’t set your child up for failure. Avoid stocking the kitchen with junk food snacks and sugary drinks.

Start early. Strive for a healthy pregnancy and avoid excess or insufficient weight gain. Both underweight and overweight infants are at risk for obesity problems later in life.

Avoid diets. Placing an overweight child on a diet will harm their health and can affect normal growth and development as well as self-esteem. Focus on the child, not their weight. Discourage negative talk about body weight.

Wise words

“Once a young child becomes obese, it’s difficult for them to lose weight, so prevention is the best strategy,” says professor Philippe Froguel who developed an online calculator (found online at http://files-good.ibl.fr/childhood-obesity) that can predict the risk of childhood obesity at birth.

Invest in early years

Positive early child development is the foundation of lifelong health, says the Canadian Paediatric Society and the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. In a recent commentary published in the journal Paediatrics & Child Health, the organizations call on physicians to make early childhood development a priority in their practices, thereby promoting health and preventing a host of problems in later life including obesity, high blood pressure, depression, heart disease and diabetes.

 

MORE COLUMNS BY MARILYN LINTON, QMI AGENCY

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