Junk foods children eat can make them overweight and lead to medical complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which were once considered adult diseases, experts have said.
However, despite the global increase in child obesity, the latest National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, report on Nutrition and Health Situation in Nigeria showed that there is no real cause for alarm on overweight children in Nigeria.
The record, for 2015, indicates that prevalence rate of child obesity in the country has been stable – at 1.6 per cent in 2015 as in the previous year.
But globally, overweight or obesity is becoming a world problem and has been attributed as the source of many preventable diseases. Out of the 37 per cent of people across the world considered to be overweight or obese, 7 per cent are children.
The increase has been at an alarming rate in the past two decades. Worldwide, childhood obesity is expected to reach 9.1 per cent (60 million) in 2020.
Though Nigeria is not one of the high risk countries, survey by the NBS shows that there are states where child obesity needs to be paid more attention to.
According to the Global Nutrition Report 2015, Nigeria is currently “on course” of achieving “good progress” in terms of obesity.
Nigeria is not among the child overweight predominance countries as all the states surveyed recorded below the 7 per cent threshold for overweight. This however does not mean action should not be taken to prevent a rise.
Survey showed that Bayelsa has the highest under five child overweight prevalence rate of 2.9 per cent, followed by Nasarawa and Taraba with 2.4 per cent. Anambra, Borno and Yobe recorded a zero percent overweight prevalence rate for children within the same age group.
Teniola Taiwo-Ojo, a medical practitioner, said obesity will become a general problem in the nearest future in Nigeria if the rise is not checked. This is because by merely looking around, you will realise that more children are fatter or overweight than their age. There is a normal weight for a child according to their age. But when a child weighs more and quick intervention is not taken, there is a tendency for the child to become overweight in future, she said.
“A one year old child is expected to weigh about 10kg. So if such child is weighing more than that, then there is a likelihood that such child will become obese as this is already above the acceptable standard. However, not all fat children are overweight or obese. Some children have big bones and large body frames and some carry different amounts of body fat at different developmental stages,” she said.
Globally, majority of overweight children are from high income countries. But some low income countries are starting to have problems with overweight. Many obese children become obese adults especially if one or both parents are obese.
The World Health organization Global Data Base on Child Growth and Malnutrition estimates that in 2010, 43 million children (35 million in developing countries) are overweight and obese and 92 million were at risk of overweight.
In Africa, the estimated childhood overweight and obesity prevalence rate as at 2010 was 8.5 per cent and expected to reach 12.7 per cent in 2020.
But Tolu Omodunbi, a senior register at Oluyoro Catholic Hospital, Ibadan said obesity is not much of a problem in Nigeria as compared to malnutrition. Out of 10 patients, there might be just a case of obesity. This is common among children from affluent homes.
“The affluence of a family is one of the factors that trigger obesity in most of the children with the ailment in Nigeria. This is different from what is obtainable in developed countries where almost any child can be obese due to the affluence of the country which has its toll on their eating habits. What is available in Nigeria is individual affluence and the wealth of it rubs off on their children if the parents do not control the children’s consumption habit,” he said.
COST OF BEING OVERWEIGHT
Childhood overweight and obesity has been associated with serious health problems and risk of premature illness and death later in life. Uncontrolled child overweight and obesity can lead to all health complications that can be noted in an adult.
Mr. Omodunbi said children with childhood obesity have a susceptibility of developing diabetes in life. There are other ailments that can be developed such as pulmonary vascular diseases, cardiovascular disease such as hypertension, high blood pressure, metabolic abnormalities among others.
“Anything obesity can cause in adult, there is always a child version. When a child is noted to be obese, it can be corrected by placing the child on healthy diet, fewer intakes of fatty and carbohydrate food and lots of exercise to burn the calories as well as medical attention and monitoring” he said.
STRATEGIES FOR REDUCTION
Ms. Taiwo-Ojo said there is need for constant monitoring of a child weight so as not to become obese. Parents need to be mindful of what they give their children because most of the food intake if not well regularised causes obesity.
“There is a need for the parents to include high fibre diets such as fruits, vegetable and legumes in the child’s food and not just fatty and carbohydrate food. Children should be taught to have a healthy lifestyle. Most schools don’t have playgrounds for children anymore, this means most children do not get to burn the calories they take in. It just stores up in their body. Parents should be patient enough to read the composition of food they buy at grocery shops before feeding their children”, she said.
“People need to be enlightened on the hazard of being obese. Some parents are not aware of the fact that there is stipulated weight standard for each age. Some just feed the child to get fat, believing that will make them look healthy, not knowing they could be causing other complications. While some that know are just too lazy to enforce it and just indulge the child to eat whatever they feel like eating believing that they will burn it, but they might not end up burning everything”, she said.