Childhood Obesity – Dr. Sahar Al Dosary Consultant Pediatric Infectious Diseases


Obesity is one of the main concerns for health care worldwide. In 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that 10% of the world’s children were obese and that the rate was rising in developing countries:

155 million children at school age were overweight, while 22 million under 5 years were overweight. According to 2002 WHO statistics, there has been a broad shift in disease burden with the majority of deaths worldwide now being related to noncommunicable diseases, many of which can belinked to imbalances of nutrition, diet and physical activity, now in 2018, we have not solved the problem, and our numbers are still the same!

In Saudi Arabia, many studies have been done to evaluate the magnitude of overweight and obesity among Saudi children. It was found that overweight and obesity occurs in all provinces . A recent study found that the Eastern province has the highest rates and the Southern province the lowest rates . According to our study about 50% of Saudi children in this Eastern province sample have a BMI above the 85% percentile. It was evident that Saudi children started developing overweight when they are 5–9 years of age—by which age 21% of children were overweight and 21% obese—and their weight continued to increase into the adolescent years. This could be attributed to the fact that children start going to school at that age, and hence, there is a less control on their eating habits and nutrition at this stage. Moreover, children in our country have become less active; few or none walk to school, spending more time in sedentary entertainment activities, such as viewing TV, computer and video games. On average, a child in Saudi Arabia spends 6 hours per day in front of screens . Recent studies have found that a 2% increase in the prevalence of obesity has been documented for each extra hour per day of screen viewing by those aged 12–17 years.

Our results agree with a previously published study in the country that obesity in both sexes is low among preschool children (31%) and highest among adolescents

(50%–76%)/ In our sample, the peak of obesity was at age 10–13 years (28.0%) and stayed at the same high rate until age 14–18 years.

Studies have shown that 80% of obeseadolescents become obese adults [8].

Adolescence has been described as the“critical period for the development for adult obesity. Hence, intervention before this age or is vital for both future health and the ability to sustain longterm weight control.

In our study, males showed a higher prevalence of obesity in all age groups, with a sharp rise at age 14–18 years. Females in this age group may be more self-conscious about their weight and avoid progressing into the obesity range. This is in accordance with a recent study conducted in Saudi Arabia which found that obesity was more common among adolescent boys than was overweight. This was attributed to the lack of physical activity and to their ability to drive in our country which gives males easy access to unhealthy diets (e.g. fast foods that contain 40%–45% fat and soda drinks instead of water) and less time to eat at home where meals would be more nutritional.

With more mothers employed outside the home, traditional foods are replaced by fast foods and typically one-third of meals are eaten outside of the home environment, often at fast food restaurants. Studies have shown that the average consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juices increased from 13 g/week in 1950 to 446 g/ week in 1992. As recently as 1989–1991 to 1994–1995, the consumption rose by 65%.

There was no significant difference in the prevalence of obesity among Saudi and non-Saudi children in our study, which draws attention towards the role of the environment, lifestyle and lack of physical activity as contributing factors over genetic factors in influencing the pattern of obesity. A study of Saudi children in the Eastern province found that they were not engaged in sporting activities as much as their American counterparts . Daily participation in physical education in highschool in the United States dropped from 42% in 1991 to 21% in 1999. Furthermore, 60%–70% of urban inhabitants were living sedentary lives. It is difficult to reduce excessive weight once it becomes established. Prevention of obesity in children should therefore start from birth by putting more emphasis on exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. It is becoming a priority to establish preschool, school and adolescent health programmes, with the emphasis on increasing physical education hours and consumption of healthy food, by incorporating health messages into the school curricula.Obesity Prevalence In our sample 50% of children in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia were overweight or obese (BMI > 85th percentile). Our study showed that obesity started early in life (ages 10–14 years) and continued throughout the adolescent ages. The prevalence of obesity was higher among males than females, who had a tendency to be overweight rather than obese. Environmental factors may have more of an influence on the prevalence of obesity than do genetic factors. Interventions to encourage healthier lifestyles form children are needed at the national level. Understanding how children become overweight in the first place is an important step toward breaking the cycle. Most cases of childhood obesity are caused by eating too much and exercising too little. Children need enough food to support healthy growth and development. But when they take in more calories than they burn throughout the day, the result is weight gain.

To combat weight problems, get the whole family involved Healthy habits start at home. The best way to fight or prevent childhood obesity and weight problems is to get the whole family on a healthier track. Making better food choices and becoming more active will benefit everyone, regardless of weight.

You can also make a huge impact on your children’s health by getting involved with the details of their lives. Spending time with your kids-talking about their day, playing, reading, cooking-can supply them with the self-esteem boost they may need to make positive changes.

Your home is where your child most likely eats the majority of meals and snacks, so it is vital that your kitchen is stocked with healthy choices. While you may need to make major changes to your family’s eating habits, changing everything at once usually leadsto cheating or giving up. Instead, start by making small, gradual steps-like adding a salad to dinner every night or swapping out French fries for steamed vegetables-rather than one big drastic switch. As small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices. Take control of your home; turn the TV, and computer or video games off. Take a walk with your child, or the whole family.

Give your family more vegetables; rainbow color your foods, always have breakfast. Teach your family how to read labels, and teach them what it means, look for hidden sugars in many products.

Children love routines; so make their meals at regular times, and limit dining out. Don’t ban sweets, but limit their amounts, and introduce fruit based snacks and deserts instead. Limit juice, soda and coffee drinks and power drinks. Watch portion sizes. Get kids moving is key. Play together, work together, go for walks, or swim together. Reduce screen time and limit it to an hour a day if possible. Do not eat in front of the TV, and do not reward or punish your children with food. Think about health benefits; decreased heart disease, reducing diabetes, arthritis, and many more diseases like fatty liver and metabolic syndrome. Lifestyle modification remains the best option for eliminating obesity. These changes will have to stay for a lifetime, and they have to happen slowly, in order to enjoy a healthy long life.







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