Childhood Obesity. A Global Epidemic – Interview with Dr. Malcom Paul Galea

 

childhood obesity - Interview with Dr. Malcom Paul GaleaObese children are no rare sight today and our tiny island is no exception to this. Although we all have heard that Malta scored first in the rate of childhood obesity in Europe, it is still the United States which holds the highest rate of this problem globally. The problem is also affecting developing countries especially within an urban setting and the figures are phenomenal! In 2010, the number of overweight children under the age of five was estimated to be over 42 million around the world.

It is a fact that overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese in adulthood. Apart from physical problems, childhood obesity has been closely associated with problems in the social and emotional well-being of the child and  poor self-esteem. In an effort to protect themselves from a general negative attitude and bullying, obese children tend to stay away from their peers and seek the protection of their homes. By confining themselves, they will not only detach themselves from society and be more solitary, but they will also tend to find comfort in eating more, hence increasing the problem even further. This will also lead to poor academic performance and a lower quality of life, hence the importance of dealing with such a problem now.

Is it solely related to food?

Childhood obesity is not only a result of excessive fatty food. It has been proven that very high sugary intake like soft drinks, an increase in portion size and lack of physical activity also play a pivotal role in this. Genetic background is also important in determining obesity
risk. However, this accounts for only about 5% of cases, thus rendering this factor much less important than we think.

Parental help also plays a very important role. It is imperative for children to be given a choice and to then help them make this choice by giving them a health-oriented rationale. Not surprisingly, regular consumption of fast food has been linked with weight gain in multiple studies! Our culture has also promoted obesity over the years. Nowadays, food is linked to socializing and reward, thus, maybe unknowingly, we are letting our children develop an unhealthy relationship with food.

What are the medical consequences?

There are a lot of medical conditions which have been linked to obesity in childhood. Among these are: Type 2 Diabetes, Gallstones, Fatty Liver, Menstrual Problems, Skin Conditions and Orthopaedic Problems. Although these problems are normally seen in adulthood, obesity is often the cause when these conditions are present in children. Most of these conditions do improve when the child loses weight, but some of them persist into
adulthood.

What should we do?

As a society, we should aim to address this well-known community problem. By combining an adequate diet and promoting physical activity at school and within the community, we would be most effective in decreasing the rate at which this problem is growing. Parents have a pivotal role and they are obliged to enforce a healthier lifestyle at home. We should teach our children to choose healthier food options. This in turn would eventually lead them to choose healthier options at school and in restaurants. Enrolling our children in sports activities instead of screen time is of utmost importance in our efforts to fight this ever growing epidemic. We are responsible for generations yet to come to not only provide them with a healthier world to live in, but a healthier lifestyle to live!

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