Discover the main causes of childhood obesity in the UAE and what measure can be taken to prevent it
16 August 2018| Last updated on 16 August 2018
In today’s article, Pacific Prime Dubai is going to answer the question: “What causes childhood obesity and what can parents do to prevent it?
According to the 2016 Dubai health survey, about 36.1% of the population studied were in the pre-obesity stage (or overweight according the WHO's classification based on body mass index), while 11.9% of the total sample suffered from obesity (22.5% for Emiratis and 11.5% for non-Emiratis). Additionally, over 36% of children in the UAE were obese in 2016, according to the World Health Organisation report.
Causes of Child Obesity
The definition of the terms "overweight" and "obesity" in children is simply an excess of body fat. Due to the lack of specific guidelines of obesity levels for children, the best person to determine whether or not your child is overweight/obese is your child's doctor.
According to a recent study, parents in the UAE have problems correctly identifying their child’s weight. Children become overweight and obese for a variety of different reasons. Usually, no single factor causes a child to become overweight; the top causes can be divided into sub-groups as follows:
Medical causes of obesity in children
Genetics can play a significant role in your children’s weight management, as genes affect hormones involved in fat regulation, such as leptin, which is responsible for “letting our brain know” when we are full. Other diseases such as hypothyroidism, insulin resistance, Cushing's syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome, are also contributors to obesity.
Take into consideration not only the type of food your kid is eating, but also the portion size, and your kid’s snacking habits. Eliminate temptations, and try to stop taking your children to fast food restaurants. Also be wary of sugary beverages - limit these to a minimum, too.
Another factor that is most significantly linked to obesity is a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, a study found that each additional hour of television per day increases the prevalence of obesity by 2%. The more kids spend time indoors, the less active they are, hence the chances of developing obesity becomes higher.
Family habits, whether they are sedentary or physically active, influence the child’s weight. The type of food that the family eats, and even the fact that a mother or father is overweight, may lead to children’s increase in weight.
In our modern culture, food is often viewed as a reward, or even as a tool to control others. These uses of food are yet another reason why children may start developing unhealthy behaviors towards food.
Emotional disorders or even stress can be a cause for a child to start gaining weight. Depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem can be both a reason and consequence of obesity. Also, westernized beauty standards stating that only being thin as a female and muscular as a male is beautiful may lead to eating disorders and general body dissatisfaction in children.
Risks Associated with Child Obesity
Ignoring weight problems now can cause future medical, and even mental issues in obese children. When the problem of putting on weight is not addressed early, it can lead the child to become overweight, and subsequently obese.
Overweight and obese children are at a high risk of remaining overweight/obese as adults, developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease later in life, and are more prone to develop stress and low self esteem.
Overweight and obese children are also at a higher risk of developing a range of other medical conditions, such as:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Bone and joints problems
- Non-alcoholic liver disease
- Skin conditions such as heat rash, fungal infections, and acne
Not only are obese children’s physical health at stake, but there are also an array of socio-emotional consequences, such as:
- Feeling excluded, especially during physical activities
- Being teased and bullied at school
- Lack of friends, hence spending more time alone, participating in sedentary activities (e.g. playing video games, watching tv)
- Low self-esteem and negative body image can also affect academic performance
Health problems such as high blood pressure can be easily treated during childhood if the child returns to a healthy weight. Maintaining normal weight will revoke adverse medical conditions and also help the child’s emotional well-being.
Prevention and Treatment
While the UAE government is quick to address childhood obesity, and currently running a number of educational campaigns in schools, supermarkets, and even banning the sale of sugary products in schools, the best thing a concerned parent can do to prevent childhood obesity is to lead by example and adopt a healthy lifestyle as an entire family. Here, we show step by step what parents should do if they suspect that their child is overweight/obese:
1. Test to eliminate the possibility of a disease that is causing the child to be overweight
2. Increase overall family activity time, and change cooking and eating habits
3. Talk to your child and show them you accept them as they are
4. Provide any additional support if necessary
The first thing to do is to talk about your concerns with a general practitioner. After examination, the doctor may recommend further tests in order to establish potential medical reasons behind your child's excess weight.
If the main reasons behind your child being overweight are a bad diet and lack of activity, start making changes. Plan family activities that provide everyone with exercise like walking, cycling, or swimming. Make sure to choose activities that your overweight child can participate in, so as not to discourage them in participating due to difficulty or fear of embarrassment.
Take time to cook healthy meals at home, and avoid rewarding your children with sweets, fast food, etc. Sign up your child and yourself to dietician consultation sessions.
The way parents talk about the weight and appearance of their child are important - they can shape the child's self-esteem and influence his/her health. It is, therefore, necessary to talk to your children often and encourage a positive change, but do not criticize, and be patient with your child’s dieting results. Teach them that having a correct body weight is important for their health, but it’s not something that determines their value in life.
If your doctor identifies a psychological problem/illness, or your child is exhibiting signs that his or her weight problems might stem from emotional issues, it is time to seek specialist advice. You may reach out to a child psychologist, who may then recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is an outpatient form of therapy for eating disorders. They might also recommend a milder version of CBT called Family-Based Treatment (FBT), where parents and the whole family is involved in the process of helping a child with an eating disorder.
Get protected from High Medical Costs
While we at Pacific Prime Dubai hope that the high rates of obesity in the Emirate will go down soon, we also know that medical care for an obese child can be expensive. The minimum benefit level of plans in Dubai is AED 150,000 - so if your child’s medical bill ends up being over that amount, you would have to pay the difference out of pocket.
For an overview of obesity costs and health insurance benefits, be sure to engage the help of an experienced insurance specialist like Pacific Prime Dubai. Their team of insurance advisors are on hand to match you with the right insurance plan for your child, at the most optimal price. For a free insurance quote, contact the team at Pacific Prime Dubai today.