There is growing concern about the high incidence of childhood obesity. Surveys indicate that up to 12% of children between the ages of seven and 10 years are obese.
US studies have found that overweight or obese children tend to remain overweight or obese to the age of 20 and are exposed to a 1.5 to 2 times higher risk of being obese adults. Obese adults in turn face the risk of increased heart disease, diabetes, joint and gall bladder disease, and psychological difficulties.
In the US a number of factors have been identified which contribute to this epidemic of childhood obesity, namely:
If one, or both parents of a child are overweight or obese, the child will be more susceptible to gaining weight.
Interactions between genetic and environmental factors
Children with “lean” genes may also become obese if they are exposed to what is known as “an energy overload” or over-abundance of high-energy foods. However, research indicates that the most susceptible individuals are those with a genetic tendency who are chronically exposed to excess food intake. In other words, children with obese parents and a “fat-prone” genetic makeup who are always overfed, will be more likely to become obese, than those who have no genetic tendency and are not overfed.
Certain population groups are more inclined to gain weight than others when they are exposed to a high-fat western diet. In South Africa more and more rural people leave their villages to move to the cities. When rural children become city dwellers, their diets undergo a radical change as they substitute high-energy snack foods and cold drinks for grains, fruits, vegetables, and sour milk. Ironically, malnutrition and obesity often occur in members of the same family.
Lack of physical activity
Modern children in contrast to their counterparts of 30 years ago, have become couch potatoes. They expend much less energy on physical activity than ever before.
Changing eating habits
The increase in the availability of kilojoule-laden foods at every turn, including tuck shops and restaurants, large portion sizes and skipping meals due to lack of time, not only contribute to obesity in adults, but also in children.
Many parents express their love for their children in terms of food. “Eat up, your Mom made this dinner specially for you.” “Don’t cry, have a sweety.” It you have a problem expressing your love for your children, don’t use this confusing type of coercion, as it may make them equate food and love in later life and cause them to gain weight every time they feel unloved or have to cope with a crisis.
Other parents try to exert control over their children by means of food. “Think of the starving children in the world and clean your plate!” Making your child feel guilty when eating is a destructive approach that may distort his or her concept of food for the rest of his/her life. – (Dr I.V. van Heerden, Health24's dietician, updated December 2009)