Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the current century. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, the number of overweight children under the age of 5 worldwide, is estimated to be over 41 million. Almost half of all overweight children under this age lived in Asia and one quarter lived in Africa.
Societal trends and food marketing are the guilty ones
WHO recognized that the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity results from changes in society. These comprise social and economic development and policies in the areas of agriculture, transport, urban planning, the environment, food processing, distribution and marketing, as well as education.
As stated by Childhood Obesity Foundation, “societal trends have dramatically altered the nature of play and the way children interact with their environment”. Nowadays, they are exposed to marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages high in fat, sugar and/or sodium. A study made by WHO adds that “researchers examining food brand websites have found that child-oriented webpages frequently promote unhealthy products with dynamic, engaging, persuasive techniques”. A lack of access to physical activity opportunities and a sedentary “screen time” habit are also contributors to this scenario.
Prevention through a healthy diet
A healthy diet is crucial to prevent malnutrition in all forms as well as a range of noncommunicable diseases and conditions. There isn’t a unique formula to everyone since each individual has his own needs, there are nevertheless basic principles to follow (according to Eatwell Guide):
– Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day;- Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, choosing wholegrain versions where possible;
– Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks), choosing lower fat and lower sugar options;
– Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily);
– Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts;
– Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of fluid a day;
– If consuming foods and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar have these less often and in small amounts.
In case of infants, WHO adds:
– They should be breastfed exclusively during the first 6 months of life.
– From 6 months of age, breast milk should be complemented with a variety of adequate, safe and nutrient dense complementary foods. Salt and sugars should not be added to complementary foods.