Childhood obesity is on an alarming rise globally, contributing to an increased prevalence of high blood pressure, elevated blood lipids, and blood glucose levels in children.
According to a recent scientific statement published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, these factors combine to cause damage to arteries and the heart.
The study emphasizes the critical need to address obesity during childhood, as this stage presents a window of opportunity to reverse such harm, unlike adulthood.
Obesity rates among children and adolescents have dramatically increased since 1975, when less than 1% of this age group was obese.
By 2016, over 124 million children, 6% of girls and 8% of boys, fell into the obese category. A major contributing factor is the decreased level of physical activity in children’s routines.
The study underlines the significance of addressing childhood obesity as it, along with associated issues like high blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood glucose levels, tends to persist into adulthood.
Obese children are five times more likely to become obese adults compared to their healthy-weight peers. Children with a high body mass index (BMI) are 40% more likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases (CVD) in adulthood.
Furthermore, children with a combination of risk factors, such as smoking, high BMI, blood pressure, and blood lipids, are two to nine times more at risk of heart attack and stroke in their midlife.
To combat these issues, the paper emphasizes the need for significant lifestyle changes, especially since habits formed early in life tend to continue into adulthood.
It recommends school-aged children to engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity daily.
Other recommendations include promoting muscle-strengthening activities at least three times per week, limiting sedentary time and screen time, and promoting healthy eating habits like consuming adequate breakfast, limiting meal portions, avoiding energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods, and increasing the intake of unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and fiber-rich cereals.
The statement proposes a range of policies and actions to combat obesity and its associated problems. Central to these are physical activity and nutrition.
Recommendations for policymakers include promoting physical activity, healthy eating habits, reducing unhealthy food marketing, involving schools, family, and friends in education programs, and providing playgrounds and green spaces in urban settings for physical activity.
Schools are encouraged to promote healthy eating and activity through healthy school meals, cooking classes, nutrition education, and sports clubs.
The influence of media, especially social media, on children’s diets is underlined in the document, noting that children are exposed to the marketing of unhealthy products around 200 times per week.
Hence, it suggests minimizing or prohibiting the marketing of unhealthy food and drinks, particularly in schools.
The document also underscores the necessity to avoid stigmatization of overweight and obese children as it could lead them towards eating disorders and inactivity.
“Identification of children at risk and offering individual treatment without causing stigmatization remains a challenge that needs to be addressed with sensitivity,” said Professor Henner Hanssen, the first author of the study.
The urgent need for preventive measures against CVD starting from childhood is stressed, with Professor Hanssen concluding,
“Rather than waiting to see if today’s obese children become tomorrow’s heart attack and stroke victims, we need an action plan now to prevent future health problems.
We already know that obesity is harming children’s health. What more proof do we need?”
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The study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
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