“Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation” (Nelson Mandela, 1995). This famous quote says it all regarding the investment we make into childhood health and development. We need to provide our children with a solid foundation to ensure that they are able to live successful, healthy and productive lives, which will ultimately help to populate a better South Africa.
We are targeting malnourished children to ensure optimal health with numerous programmes across the country, but on the opposing side we are also faced with the growing trend of childhood obesity.
What are the implications of this and how can we take the time to make a difference?
Obesity is associated with a rise in non communicable diseases such as insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease and strokes to name a few. (The Hybrid Diet by Patrick Holford & Jerome Burne). These diseases place an additional demand on our exhausted health care services, overcrowding our hospitals and increasing health care costs. This is why it is so important to implement correct nutrition and promote regular physical activity from a young age. We need to start how we would like to finish.
According to the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES-1) conducted in 2012, the prevalence of obesity and excessive weight gain in children is increasing, making it a cause of concern for public health.
The reasons for weight gain in children are multi-factorial as they can range from genetic, social, environmental and psychological causes (Mchiza et al. 2013). The key is to address these early on so that this doesn’t result in further complications into adulthood.
Physical activity implemented from a young age can decrease the risk of childhood obesity. The increase in the use of screen time is preventing children from being appropriately active. A statitsitc from the HAKSA Report 2018 in SA states that on average children spend more than 3 hours per day looking at screens, excluding during school time and more television time is related to weight gain. This is not only due to a more sedentary lifestyle but also due to the increased advertising on unhealthy foods, encouraging children to partake in this type of snacking.
A study conducted in Stellenbosch showed that children whose mothers’ had long working hours were at increased risk of being overweight or obese (Kirsten et al. 2013). This may be due to the fact that working mothers don’t have time to prepare home-cooked meals with more wholefoods than refined substances. Today, even in South Africa, we have quick and easy access to meals via takeaways and fast foods, uber eats or even supermarket pre-made meals. Unfortunately most of these are very high in salt, sugar and preservatives and can contribute to high cholesterol, raised insulin levels and ultimately excessive weight gain. Unlike in the past, most parents need to work full time to provide for their families so we need to find a solution to incorporate healthy eating even in a busy lifestyle.
What small alterations can parents make to keep their children at a healthy weight and provide them with a beneficial start to grow on into adulthood?
Let’s take a look at a few tips: