Peter at eight years old, weighs 55kg.  “He’s hungry all the time,” mum, Bee Choo said. “He’ll return to the kitchen half-hour after a meal saying  “’I’m hungry again!”

Rice with curry, noodles, burgers, bread, cheese, cakes, chocolates and ice-cream are the favorites he would wolf down with great gusto.

Peter loves to play football but his weight weighs on his health. Already bulky and rotund, he had to remove his tonsils as the thickness of his neck was causing snoring and sleep apnoea. From the endless teasing and taunting, Peter felt the rejection acutely, and that affected his self-esteem badly.  Bee Choo felt quite at a loss on how to help Peter battle the bulge.

We hear stories like this all too often. Obesity is on the rise in nations, rich and poor, particularly among the kids.

Obesity: The Global Epidemic

Latest statistics reveal that childhood obesity is a growing global issue that extends into developing countries. For instance, in Thailand, obesity in 5-12 year old kids have increased from 12.2% to 15.6% in just two years. Meanwhile, in Singapore, The Straits Times reported that while adults are getting fitter, children are increasingly overweight. While the numbers are not as high it is still considered a concern for Singapore’s Ministry of Health.

Similarly, according to a 2013 study by Prof Dr. Poh Be Koon in 2013, Malaysia was among the top three countries with a high percentage (11.5 percent) of obese children (aged between six months and 12 years). Moreover, recent data suggest that 1.65 million schoolchildren are expected to be obese or overweight by the year 2025

Childhood obesity predisposes children to complications arising from it. An interplay between genetics and the environment, obesity has been growing at an alarming rate in both adults and children. One study suggested that a child with one obese parent has a 50 percent chance of being obese. When both parents are obese, their children then have an 80 percent chance of obesity.   

Worrisome isn’t it? Break down that large number and researchers estimate 88,000 of Malaysian children are expected to have impaired glucose tolerance, 28,000 may suffer from Type 2 diabetes, a whopping 191,000 may have high blood pressure and 264,000 may suffer from first-stage fatty liver disease. 

Not A Condition But A Disease

In the United States, obesity is a common predicament amongst children in lower socio-economic groups. The thought is that parents are unable to afford nutritious, low-calorie food. 

In contrast, in developing countries, obesity is prevalent among poor families and the rich. One is due to the inability to provide nutritious, low-calorie food. While the other often makes unwise decisions and purchases the wrong kind of food.  

UM Specialist Centre (UMSC) paediatric endocrinology senior consultant Associate Prof Dr. Muhammad Yazid Jalaludin also adds that judging from the current statistics and the disease patterns, obesity among children is definitely a disease and not just a condition. 

The Health Impact Of Childhood Obesity

WHO noted that with childhood obesity, comes an increased likelihood of premature death and disability. But what’s worse is that these kids are at an even larger risk of carrying obesity all through adulthood. At this point, you must think okay, and ?

 Obesity is no joke, it leads on to the child/adolescent developing insulin resistance syndrome or otherwise known as metabolic syndrome. Consequently, an accumulation of risk factors for the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease – no longer an issue that plagues only the middle-aged and elderly.

Imagine your kids vulnerable to diseases such as heart disease, liver disease, high blood pressure, even Type 2 diabetes and at such a tender age. 

We’ve all heard of horrifying instances where kids succumb to death in their sleep. Well, in the case of kids suffering from obesity, sleep apnea is all too common.  The fat around the neck of obese children is enough to cause something called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). 

During sleep, this excess fat can cause cessation in breathing and hypoventilation in the kids. Progressively, this disrupts the quality and well-being of the child. An increased blood content of carbon dioxide and low oxygen levels can translate to headaches and drowsiness during the day. Not to mention, causing snoring and also waking up tired too. Long term implications of reduced oxygen in the bloodstream include heart failure and early deterioration of memory. 

Beating Childhood Obesity

UMSC clinical dietitian and head of Dietetic Services Rozanna M. Rosly believes that it should start from home. She says that parents should be made aware of the importance of following a balanced diet in accordance with their children’s age and gender to make sure that the food they eat contains the essential nutrients to promote optimal growth.

Additionally, she also poses a very good question on physical activities. While parents claim their children to be active she says the question then to be asked would be  ‘How often and how long and what kind of exercises do your children do?’ 

It is good to remember that we still have time and control over this growing epidemic. The choice is in our hands when it comes to making better decisions about the food we consume, the image we set for our kids and responsibility in educating both ourselves and our family on the importance of healthy eating. 

It is also time to get the kids off the screen and play outside in the open air and sunshine!

This article was first published on GetDoc Says. 
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