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How to prevent childhood obesity from early childhood?

29 May 2019

Written by: Ruyan Xu

SinoUnited Health Dietician Registered Dietician with the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the U.S.

In May 2017, the ‘Children's Obesity Report in China’ was officially published, which mentioned that "in the past 30 years, there have been more and more obese children in our country. Without control, the prevalence of obesity among children aged 0 to 7 will reach 6.0% in 2030, and the number of obese children will increase to 6.64 million; the prevalence of overweight and obesity among school-age children aged 7 and over will reach 28.0%, and the number of overweight and obese children will increase to 49.48 million. "


The report points out that the rate of overweight and obesity among children in China has been rising since 1990s. From 1985 to 2005, the prevalence of obesity among children aged 0 to 7 in major cities of China increased from 0.9% to 3.2%, and the number of obese children increased from 1.41 million to 4.04 million. It is estimated that the obesity rate of children aged 0 to 7 is about 4.3%. From 1985 to 2014, the overweight rate increased from 2.1% to 12.2% and the obesity rate increased from 0.5% to 7.3%. The corresponding number of overweight and obesity increased from 6.15 million to 34.96 million. Causes of obesity Dietary habits: The most prominent reason for children's obesity is unhealthy dietary habits. Many children with obesity like to eat high-calorie food, frequent snacking, and often skip breakfast. According to the survey, the incidence of obesity among children who eat breakfast only once a week is 18.6%, while the incidence of obesity among children who have breakfast every day is 11.8%.


Life-style and habits: avoidance of sports, watching TV often, like to sit down after dinner -  these are also causes of obesity in children. Television and computer games have contributed to more sedentary lifestyles whilst TV advertisements have increased inappropriate food choices. There is a positive correlation between the time spent watching TV and the number of overweight children. According to the survey, the probability of obesity increases by 1.5% with the increase of the average time spent watching TV for one hour. The relationship between TV watching and overweight was more pronounced in older children and adolescents. Nutrients: As far as dietary nutrients are concerned, there is a negative correlation between calcium intake and obesity. Consumption of sugary drinks is a major factor in high calorie food intake, especially when these liquids replace milk and calcium intake in adolescents. In addition, fast food consumption has accounted for 10% of children's food intake. Compared with children who rarely eat fast food, children who eat fast food regularly consume more total energy, more fat, more carbohydrates, more extra sugar, less dietary fiber, less milk and less fruits and vegetables. Hereditary factors: Generally, if one of the parents is obese, the probability of their children to be obese is 25%. If both parents are obese, the probability of future obesity for their children is 50%-70%. Hereditary susceptibility is a congenital factor, but whether obesity occurs largely depends on acquired factors, namely behavior and lifestyle. Even without genetic susceptibility, obesity occurs because of changes in behavior and lifestyle. Therefore, if there are overweight and obese parents in the family, attention should be paid to children from the very youngest age. It is very important to help children develop good dietary habits and a healthy lifestyle. The hazards of childhood obesity Childhood obesity does not only have a serious impact on a child’s physical development, it also increases the risk of obesity-related chronic diseases in adulthood. The risk of hypertension in overweight and obese children was 3.3 and 3.9 times higher than that in normal weight children. The risk of high triglyceride was 2.6 and 4.4 times higher than that in normal weight children, and the risk of low HDL cholesterol was 3.2 and 5.8 times higher than that in normal weight children, respectively. Obese children are 2.7 times more likely to develop diabetes in adulthood than normal weight children, and those with persistent obesity from childhood to adulthood are 4.3 times more likely to develop diabetes than those with persistent normal weight. Obesity can also affect children's adolescent development, endanger the respiratory system and skeleton, and have adverse effects on psychology, behavior, cognition and intelligence.


What to do if children are overweight? 1. Develop good eating habits for children—the routine of three meals a day should be encouraged, with no snacking in between mealtimes. Eat fruits and vegetables every day; have dairy, legumes and soybean products often; eat appropriate amount of fish, poultry, eggs and lean meat; eat less animal fats. For children who do not eat breakfast, parents should pay special attention to helping their children break this bad habit, as not eating breakfast is identified as one of the causes of obesity.


2. Increase physical activity and give children time and space to play. Make sure to exercise at least 60 minutes per day. To diversify the intensity and form of exercise, mainly aerobic exercise.  

Take children to do morning exercises together, let them play group games with peers, encourage housework, and cultivate a variety of activity interest and sports hobbies. Limit TV time and help children understand the harm of sedentary and excessive screen time. Physical activity should be carried out every hour of sitting. The less time in front of a screen, the better. Help children develop good habits and regular rest time. Be a positive role model.  

3. Don't be eager to achieve weight loss for children. Blindly losing weight will affect the growth and development of children. Weight loss for children should be called weight control. That is to say, obese children keep normal growth of height, while weight does not increase or slowly increase, to gradually make weight and height adapt.