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Obesity starts from childhood


Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

There is a misconception that obesity is common only in industrialized countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. But obesity is fast spreading across the globe – even in the Philippines.

A couple of years back, a nutrition expert said the Philippines has the third “fattest population” in Asia – after Malaysia and Singapore. Currently, about 500,000 Filipinos are suffering from obesity. 

In the past, obesity affected only adults. But in recent years, children are not spared from this health burden. In fact, there is such a thing as childhood obesity. 

Results from the Expanded National Nutrition Survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in 2019 reported a relatively low prevalence of overweight at 2.9% among children under five years old; the medium prevalence of 9.1% and 9.8% among children aged 5 to 10 years old and 10 to 19 years old, respectively.

What is alarming is that overweight has tripled in the last 15 years among adolescents. “There is a higher rate of overweight and obese children in urban areas than in rural areas and higher prevalence of several risk factors and environmental conditions could rapidly increase the rates,” the FNRI said.

“We should fight off the common mistakes of Filipinos that overweight children are ‘cute.’ It is not!” urged Dr. Ramon F. Abarquez, Jr. when he was still alive. “Healthy kids are not overweight or underweight. We should teach them proper eating habits and healthy lifestyle choices while they are young.”

Be healthy and beat obesity now – before it’s too late. “Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for a number of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke, which are the leading cause of death worldwide,” deplores the WHO.

“Being overweight can also lead to diabetes and its associated conditions, including blindness, limb amputations, and the need for dialysis,” the United Nations health agency warns. “Carrying excess weight can lead to musculoskeletal disorders including osteoarthritis.”

Obesity is also associated with some cancers, including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and colon. “The risk of these noncommunicable diseases increases even when a person is only slightly overweight and grows more serious as BMI climbs,” the WHO points out.

Obesity in childhood is associated with a wide range of serious health complications and an increased risk of premature onset of related illnesses. Studies have found that without intervention, children and adolescents with obesity will likely to continue to be obese into adulthood.

Allow children to play

Overweight is defined by a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25, while obesity relates to a BMI of 30 or above. The BMI is calculated by dividing body weight (in kilograms) by height (in meters) squared. For example, a person who is 1.7 meters tall and weighs 65 kilograms would have a BMI of 22.5.

The worldobesityday.org considered obesity a disease, and as such, it must be treated as one. “There are many factors that can put people at higher risk of developing obesity, including biology, genes, mental health, access to healthcare and exposure to ultra-processed, unhealthy foods,” it said. “Obesity is not due to a lack of will power.”

“Many of the causes of overweight and obesity are preventable and reversable, However, no country has yet to reverse the growth of this epidemic,” the World Health Organization (WHO) says, adding that worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.

The Geneva-based United Nations agency says the key to preventing obesity is to act early. For instance, women who want to consider having a baby should get themselves healthy.

“Good nutrition in pregnancy, followed by exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 6 months and continued breastfeeding until two years and beyond, is best for all infants and young children,” the WHO reiterates.

The Department of Health (DOH) is also recommending this suggestion. “To prevent obesity, we need to start early, that is in the First 1000 Days of life when we could also prevent undernutrition, which could also result in obesity in later life,” explains Dr. Azucena Dayanghirang, executive director of National Nutrition Council.

Dr. Dayanghirang urged every Filipino to be involved. “Curbing the childhood obesity epidemic requires political commitment at all levels, and the collaboration of many public and private stakeholders,” she pointed out.

“A multisectoral approach is essential, and should provide supportive environments that encourage physical activity, restrict access to unhealthy foods and drinks, support mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months and to protect children from marketing influences,” she added. 

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