Childhood obesity: Ditch the sugary treats and processed foods for your kids

KUALA LUMPUR: Healthy lifestyles need to be incorporated into daily habits in order to prevent childhood obesity, said Dr Ch'ng Tong Wooi, a  consultant paediatric endocrinologist.

She said these include reducing the intake of processed food and high-fat or sugar food, drinking plenty of water daily, increasing the intake of high-fibre food such as whole wheat, fruits and vegetables, as well as exercising for 30 to 45 minutes a day.

"Also, families may model a healthy eating pattern, move more as a family, set consistent sleep routines, and replace screen time with family time to further prevent obesity in children," she added.

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey conducted every four years, 50.1 per cent of Malaysians are overweight, with 19.7 per cent of them being obese in 2019.

"This means one in two adults is now overweight, and 30 per cent of children aged between five and 13 years are obese," said Dr Ch'ng.

Childhood obesity, which entails the risk of getting high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease among other complications, can lead to adult obesity.

Dr Ch'ng highlighted that childhood obesity can also affect self-esteem and lead to psychological problems such as anxiety and depression, while adults with obesity have higher risks for stroke, cancer and premature death, as well as mental illness such as clinical depression and anxiety.

"Obesity is caused by consuming calories more than what the body needs. Furthermore, children are spending less time playing outside and more time indoors playing games on the phone, video games or watching television," Dr Ch'ng said, adding that more evidence is associating inadequate sleep with obesity.

Meanwhile, dietitian Celeste Lau, explained that the main contributors to obesity in children are high-calorie food such as deep-fried food which has high amount of fat, sweetened beverages (sugar) and high-calorie snacks (high-fat and sugar).

"Local snacks such as pisang goreng, cekodok, curry puff, cucur udang, doughnut coated with cream or sugar, rojak (pasembur) and keropok lekor, among others, are high-calorie snacks that might not be suitable for children who are inactive.

"Parents also have to be aware of popular snacks such as bubble milk tea, cream puff, pastries, dried chips and yogurt drinks, as calorie content in these could be the same as a main meal," she said, adding that parents have to limit the amount and frequency of such snacks.

Lau recommended high-protein snacks such as nuts, seeds, cereal bars and plain yogurt rather than sweetened beverages for active children.

"For children who are not as active, parents can offer fruits as their snack in between meals instead," she said.

She advised parents to ensure that their children have a healthy diet by cultivating healthy eating habits from young.

Lau said it is normal for toddlers, especially those aged two years and below, to be picky as they are learning something new (food) in their life.

"In the event they reject the food once or twice or even spit out the food in every meal, it does not mean that they dislike the food. It is fine for parents to reintroduce the food to them repeatedly as long as that food is important for children in their growing stage.

"Start with small portions and be cautious if they show intolerance or allergy to the food you introduce," she said.

Malnutrition in children can happen, especially among underweight and/or obese children, where they might not be getting sufficient nutrients crucial for growth.

"For children with weight issues, parents can always know ahead by measuring their weight and height at home using a growth chart to monitor their growth.

"Feel free to consult your paediatrician and dietitian if you have any growth and diet concerns for your loved ones," Lau said. -- BERNAMA

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