Daily choices key factor in childhood obesity: Experts

World
Mon, 18 Sep 2023 6:00 GMT
Obesity mainly results from overnutrition, low, insufficient physical activity from environmental reasons, says dietitian
Daily choices key factor in childhood obesity: Experts

The choices we make in the environments we live our daily lives are the main cause of childhood obesity, according to a dietitian. 

Our preferences turn into behavior and our behaviors become determinative of our repeated habits, Selma Ozturk, a dietitian in the Turkish capital of Ankara, told Anadolu as September is celebrated annually in the US as Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

The month aims to educate children and families on how to prevent childhood obesity.

“Of course, there are genetic causes in the predisposition to obesity, but this has a slice of 1% - 2%,” she said.

Ozturk recommended individual, family and school and community-based measures to prevent the disease at early ages.

“Individual measures are maternal health, ideal body mass index of the mother before pregnancy and optimal weight gain during pregnancy,” she said, and it is crucial to do moderate physical activity and feed a baby breast milk for the first two years along with supplementary foods.

“This will definitely reduce the risk of obesity in older ages,” she said.

The dietitian said it is impossible to consider little ones’ nutritional preferences and physical activity independently of their families.

“Children take their parents as an example. That's why everything should be done in a certain order and limit,” said Ozturk, who emphasized it is the responsibility of the parents to create the opportunity and environment to do their loved one’s favorite activities regularly.

Community-based measures are only possible with government policy, she said, and recommended incentives for the production of healthy and nutritious foods, and deterrent policies should be established at the point of the production and advertisement of unhealthy and low-nutritive foods.  

Mocking, exclusion, adaptation issues

Mehmet Emin Kizin, a clinical psychologist in Ankara, told Anadolu that the fight against childhood obesity is a situation that requires the support and participation of all family members.

“Parents should accompany the practice of consuming healthy foods instead of fast food and ready-to-eat foods, and the lifestyle of the family should be in this direction,” he said as he called on the parents to organize family activities such as walking and cycling together as they would “be more beneficial for children than constant verbal warnings.”

He highlighted that an obese child may encounter mocking, exclusion by friends and thus have adaptation issues on a daily basis he said. These components could cause the child to be pushed into loneliness, low self-esteem, low academic achievement, feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and body dissatisfaction, which end up with probable eating disorders.

“The most important psychological difficulties faced by obese children at the family level are communication difficulties within the family and blame,” he said, as he underlined that excessively restricted diets made unconsciously by parents can cause a child to feel guilty when he eats even “a small piece of chocolate.”

“Families should be careful not to be accusatory in their approach toward obese children,” he said. “An idealized body image in the form of a certain pattern” in the media may also cause the disease to step into a more severe level for the child, expressing that such messages can make it difficult for the child to accept himself.  

How to defeat childhood obesity

“Awareness and education are important for families, schools and the wider community to overcome these challenges and support the psychological health of obese children,” said Kizin.

“By providing empathy, acceptance and support against obesity, it is possible for these children to strengthen their self-esteem and adopt a healthy lifestyle,” he said and suggested the situation should be handled from two main perspectives: physical health and psychological needs.

The family should develop a way to understand the child's feelings and highlight his talents and values other than physical appearance, said the psychologist.

Communication within the family should be as open as possible and the family should support the child's goals in managing obesity physically and psychologically, he said. It could be helpful to work with a psychologist or counselor, if needed, he said.

“Feeling enough family support, love and understanding in a child with obesity can help the child develop a healthier lifestyle,” he stressed.

Kizin recommended that it would help an obese child to have self-acceptance and positive self-talk, to recognize strengths in talents, interests and personal characteristics along with avoiding constantly evaluating appearance and setting positive goals.

Spending time with friends or family who will help deal with negative attitudes, sparing time for activities for self-improvement, and self-care would also be beneficial, he added.

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