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Physician, Nkechi Ilodibia Warns Parents On The Dangers Of Mistaking Childhood Obesity For Sign Of Good Living

Physician, Nkechi Ilodibia Warns Parents On The Dangers Of Mistaking Childhood Obesity For Sign Of Good Living

Dr Nkechi Ilodibia is a family physician with interest in lifestyle medicine. She tells Punch’s Alexander Okere about childhood obesity, symptoms and other related issues.

During the interview with the publication, Dr Nkechi warned parents to not mistake unhealthy weight in children as evidence of good living. She warns of the attendant mental health issues and a possible downward spiral in academic performance as a result of unhealthy weight gain in children.

See the full interview below:

What is obesity?

Obesity is an abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A crude way to measure obesity in adults is the body mass index, computed as a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of his or her height (in metres). If the calculated BMI is 30.0 or higher, it falls within the obese range. It is frequently subdivided into categories: Class 1: BMI of 30 to < 35; Class 2: BMI of 35 to < 40 and Class 3: BMI of 40 or higher. Sometimes, Class 3 obesity is sometimes categorised as ‘extreme’ or ‘severe’ obesity.

What is childhood obesity?

Children who are obese are above the normal weight for their age and height. Childhood obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex. It is one of the most serious medical conditions that affect children and adolescents and one of the increasingly global public health challenges of the 21st century.

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What are the symptoms of childhood obesity?

There are varying symptoms. some children may present with larger than average body frames. Some carry different amounts of body fat at the various stages of development. So, it may be challenging to detect childhood obesity by looks alone.

Some parents see obesity in their children as a sign of good living. Is there any danger in that?

Yes. This is because it may lead to missing the complications of childhood obesity the child may be suffering from and expose the child to its consequences.

What are the factors that increase a child’s risk of being overweight?

They include diet – regularly consuming high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, pastries, candies, desserts and sugary drinks, including fruit juices. Children who don’t engage in exercises are more likely to gain weight because they don’t expend calories. A lot of time spent in sedentary activities, such as playing video, tablet or phone games, watching television, also contribute to the problem.

A child from a family of overweight people is more likely to put on weight. This is especially true in an enabling environment where high-calorie foods are persistently available and physical activity isn’t encouraged. there are also psychological factors.

Personal, parental, family stress and peer pressure can increase a child’s risk of obesity. Some children overeat to cope with these problems or to deal with childhood emotions, such as stress, or to stave off boredom.

Can the continuous closure of schools over the COVID-19 pandemic increase pupils’ risk of being overweight?

During this lockdown, many households stocked up on shelf foods and also bought processed, calorie-dense comfort foods, sometimes, at the click of a button.

Additionally, the measures placed by the government such as social distancing and stay-at-home orders discouraged exercise. Sedentary activities and screen time soared following the stay-at-home orders. Screen time is also associated with overweight or obesity in childhood, likely because of the two-fold issues of sedentary time and the association between screen time and snacking.

Can children with obesity suffer mental challenges?

Yes. they can suffer from social and emotional complications such as low self-esteem from teases and persistent bullying are common among children, resulting in an increased risk of depression. there are also behavioural and learning problems. Overweight children tend to be more anxious and demonstrate poorer social skills than normal-weight children do.

These problems may lead overweight children to either act out or tend to withdraw socially. All of these can create an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

Are there academic implications?

Yes. It causes sickness absenteeism from school. Also, bullying from peers may predispose children suffering from obesity to poor concentration.

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What are the other health complications of obesity in children?

Obesity is known to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that may impair the way your child’s body uses sugar (glucose). A poor diet can cause your child to develop high cholesterol, high blood pressure or both. These may result in a buildup of plaques in the arteries, thereby, narrowing and hardening arteries and possibly leading to a heart attack or a stroke later in life. Metabolic syndrome is also a complication. It is a cluster of conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL (‘good’) cholesterol and excess abdominal fat. these conditions can put your child at risk of heart disease, diabetes or other health problems.

Children who are overweight or obese may more likely to develop asthma. Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder caused by an intermittent blockage of airflow during sleep. This leads to repeated cessation and starting of a child’s breathing during sleep. Obese children are more likely to break bones than their counterparts with normal weight. they are also likely to suffer from joint pains and hip dislocations.

There is also non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This disorder usually presents with no symptoms and causes fatty deposits to build up in the liver. NAFLD can lead to scarring and permanent liver damage.

Are obese children likely to be overweight in adulthood?

Yes. During their formative years, their eating patterns and sedentary nature become their lifestyles.

When is it necessary to see a doctor?

It is necessary to see a doctor as soon as a parent expresses concerns that the child is putting on weight, or notices symptoms of childhood obesity such as those listed above. the child’s history of growth and development, background, family’s lifestyle and weight-for-height history will be elicited. A physical examination will be carried out to determine the weight and height of the child; the BMI would be calculated and plotted on a chart to give a more objective assessment of the child’s status. A consultation with a nutritionist would be arranged as well.

What measures can parents take to prevent obesity in their children?

Parents should limit their children’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages or avoid them, if possible.

They should encourage the consumption of plenty of fruits and vegetables. Family meal times should be encouraged to teach your child how to make healthier choices, like adjusting portion sizes appropriately for age. Media time should be reduced to limit TV and other screen time to less than two hours a day for children older than two. And don’t allow television for children younger than two years. Be sure your child gets enough sleep. Also, schedule child checkups at least once a year and increase physical activities. Outdoor games and school physical activities should also be encouraged.

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