Here’s Why Children Today Are More Obese Than 20 Years Ago
Access to technology and other lifestyle changes are leading to children becoming obese. We take a look at all the factors contributing to this.

July 3, 2018

an obese or overweight kid

Childhood obesity is a serious problem around the globe. A recorded 22 million children under the age of five are  overweight. It is estimated that one in five South African children are either overweight or obese, with 20% under the age of six.

The National Household Food Consumption Survey reported that 17.1% of South African children between the ages of one and nine living in urban areas are overweight. With the number continuing to increase.

Related: These Unsettling Charts Show How Obesity Is Increasing – And Just How Fast It Is

The chronic over-nourishment problem has now taken over and become a public health concern as stated by the 2012 South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES-1).

The survey documented a combined overweight and obesity prevalence of 13.5% for South African children aged 6-14 years. This is higher than the global prevalence of 10% in school children, but lower than current levels in the USA [18% for obesity and 32.6% for combined overweight and obesity in children aged 6-11 years (2009-2010)]

Obesity and overweight children are very prone to higher risks of fatal diseases and health problems in the long run.

The physical effects:  Diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, cancer, high cholesterol, sleep apnoea, sleeping problems, breathing problems, bone conditions such as weakening of the hips, gastro-intestinal diseases, and even the early onset of puberty.

The psychological implications: Depression, eating disorders and poor self-esteem resulting from body image issues.

Why Are We Falling Victim To The Obesity Epidemic?

Modern lifestyles, poor diets and lack of physical activity can be seen to contribute to the childhood problem of obesity and overweight in South Africa. Yet, these are just a few sides to many on the ‘obese coin’ being thrown into the air.

Related: 5 Food Myths Your Parents Told You And The Ones You Should Stop Believing

Regular physical activity has dwindled away over the last 20 years, which is viewed as a major contributing factor to obesity. Modern children compared to their counterparts over 30 years ago have become more sedentary.

What is more concerning is that schools used to be a place where children would be active throughout the day, but from the 2010 Healthy Active Kids (HAK) South African report card showed a decline in physical activity, physical education and an increase in sedentary time since the 2007 HAK report card.

Less than 70 percent of high school pupils reported having regularly scheduled physical education and physical education classes. Physical education teachers and coaches in schools are not always adequately qualified for their roles, while others tend to focus on building winning teams and ignoring the children who are moderate achievers. In poorer schools, there is often a lack of sports infrastructure and resources.

Diet goes hand in hand with exercise and physical activity. Research by University of Cape Town’s Medical Research Unit indicates that parents who are very strict with allowing children to make their own food choices are just as unproductive as being overly neglectful and allowing them to eat whatever they want. It boils down to parenting style and as parents they should make proper, informed and healthy decisions when it comes to balanced meals and diets for their children.

Related: Parents’ Behaviour Influences Whether Their Children Have Healthy, Non-Violent Relationships Later In Life

Many South African children are consuming highly processed foods either out of convenience or simply because their parents don’t know any better. For disadvantaged families, the greatest challenge is how to get access to healthy food for their children with a limited budget. In many cases the cheaper option is the unhealthier option and processed foods end up in the shopping basket rather than fruit and vegetables.

Some parent’s work long hours in a week, don’t have much time to cook meals and this contributes to children opting for fast food and quick meals to eat instead of wholesome and healthy ones. Parents should also opt to make packed healthy lunches for school instead of just handing over a twenty-buck note and allowing their children to buy food from the tuck shop. According to the 2010 HAK report card, nearly 45% of adolescents surveyed often buy from the school tuck shop, with more than one in five buying sweets, chocolates and crisps.

If parents and schools come together by enforcing rules at home for TV viewing and computer game playing, establishing more physical education programs at school, and incorporating healthy diets for their children, the problem of obesity could be controlled.

By developing the underlying foundations of a healthy lifestyle during childhood it will in turn reflect in adult health and quality of life. Parents should be implementing good ways to help their children fight the obese monster and give them a better quality of life.

Could It Be In Your Genes?

Many researchers believe that most people have inherited genes that predispose them to storing fat and are what leads them to being obese. There are rare mutations in a gene that appear to have associations with slow metabolism and may explain why some young children become obese.

Although this gene mutation only presents itself in about 2% of people with obesity but when it begins in early childhood, before ten years of age, it’s worth looking into potential genetic causes that play a role in some forms of obesity. A University of California study also found that body fat responses are determined largely by genetic factors and are linked to DNA.

During a two-year study, researchers measured obesity traits in response to a high-fat, high-sugar diet in more than 100 inbred strains of mice. They identified 11 genome-wide “regions” associated with obesity and fat gain due to high-fat, high-sugar intake. Several identified regions overlap with genes identified in human studies. The results are consistent with the inheritance of body mass index (BMI) and obesity in humans.