Ask any child about their lifes ambitions and they are unlikely to answer with the phrase I want to be obese and unhealthy. However, recent studies indicate that unless immediate, dramatic action is taken to reduce the incidence of childhood obesity our young people will no longer be able to harbour ambitions of being a fire fighter or an astronaut – they will, quite simply, be too fat and too unfit for those career choices, as well as many others.
Public health issue
The issue of childhood obesity should be regarded as a public health issue requiring implementation of government policies that reinforce healthy and positive lifestyle choices. It is widely recognised that eating a healthy, well balanced diet with a wide variety of fresh food from all food groups combined with regular exercise is the key to preventing weight gain – for all of us, not just children. Government and industry should be working together to ensure that the whole of society is educated about and able to access these measures.
Estimates concerning the future
Using statistics gathered in 2000 it has been estimated that by 2012, if nothing changes, 44% of women and 37% or men will be obese by the time they reach the age of 35 and will be experiencing many of the associated health problems. The recent studies particularly noted the long term effects of childhood obesity on heart health –
- A 16% rise in heart disease
- A rise of 19% of heart disease related deaths in the age group of 35 – 50 (conservatively estimated as an additional 100,000 deaths)
Similar conclusions were drawn when comparing records of Danish citizens born between 1930 and 1976 where a distinct link was noted between childhood obesity, indicated by high BMI readings, and future heart disease and deaths related to heart disease. This study seems to indicate that as childhood BMI readings increase so too does the risk of adult heart disease. The Danish research is thought to be the first to show a conclusive link between childhood obesity and adult health problems. Both recent studies indicate that a child does not have to obese in order to run the risk of developing health problems later in life – being a few pounds overweight is also damaging to future health.
Start at the very beginning
In order to prevent the increasing rates of heart disease due to childhood obesity it is essential to establish good eating habits from an early age and to ensure that children are taught the importance of regular exercise. Protecting children from the mass advertising campaigns of the food industry and encouraging them to walk or cycle instead of sitting and watching TV may seem impossible but, in reality, children need to understand healthy food and its role in maintaining a healthy body. Parents need to take early responsibility for their childrens eating and exercise habits – and the sooner this happens, the better. It is never safe to assume that a childs excess weight is the result of puppy fat or that they will simply grow out of it, childhood obesity is a serious problem which needs to be prevented as early as possible in life.