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Stigmatized Nigerian Kids Share Insight Into Their Plight Living With Obesity: ‘I Still Bedwet At The Age Of 13’

Stigmatized Nigerian Kids Share Insight Into Their Plight Living With Obesity: ‘I Still Bedwet At The Age Of 13’

One in 10 children and teenagers will be obese by December 2023 in 10 high-burden African countries if no robust measures are taken to curb the increasing incidence of the health condition, a recent World Health Organisation analysis warned.

In the report, some children living with obesity lamented that the health condition is making life tough for them, noting that they are troubled by their inability to engage in some physical tasks like their peers. They also bemoaned their obesity-related health issues and the daily mockery they endure due to their weight.

Living with obesity has been quite challenging for a 13-year-old Daniel Akpan and his parents. Daniel, an indigene of Akwa Ibom State, said the excruciating pain he daily experiences on his knees and waist has been making life difficult for him.

The JSS 3 student, says despite his young age, he could barely walk a long distance let alone run due to his weight, unlike his peers who are doing such with ease.

Besides the physical pain, the young boy says his condition is also bringing him psychological pain due to stigma which he lamented is making life unbearable for him.

Daniel decried the ridicule and mockery he has to go through daily in the hands of neighbours, friends, family members, and classmates who make fun of him for being obese.

Sharing his frustration with PUNCH Healthwise, Daniel who is the only son of his parents said,

“Since primary school, I have been having pains in my legs due to my weight. My weight is too heavy for my legs to carry and because of that walking, most times becomes a difficult task for me.”

Constant leg and waist pain

“I always experience pain in my waist and knees. There was even a time in my primary school when I stopped going to school because of my weight. I am not happy with my size at all. It is denying me a lot of things and comfort.

I can’t eat some of the things my sister and friends are eating; I can’t run; I can’t walk a long distance and if I try to do that, it will be as if I want to faint.

The chocolates, sweets and biscuits that my mates consume, I can’t consume them because my mother said they will make me add more weight.

I am given small portions of food, especially wheat all the time. Yet, I am still fat despite all those restrictions. I feel bad each time I am unable to do what my peers are doing nor eat what they eat.

And I was told that if my weight remains like this, I may have a heart problem. The whole thing is making me sad.”

I stopped going to government school because of stigma

Continuing, Daniel said,

“Now, apart from the health problems, the ridicule and mockery that I face daily over my weight is too much. Sometimes, I feel like not going to school nor interacting with anybody because of the way people look at me. I can’t walk on the street freely without people calling me all sorts of names.

If I am walking on the street or going to school, people will call me ‘Orobo, fatty bum bum. In the compound where we live, if I should come out to play, people will be calling me names and will also be touching me anyhow.

Some will say I have a big breast, tummy, and buttocks like a woman.”

Daniel, looking sad said some people even accused him of being responsible for his problem by eating too much. He recounted:

“Some people will call me a glutton. I was attending a government school before but because of the way they mock me and call me ‘Orobokibo’, my parents had to withdraw me from the school and put me in a private school.

“The mockery is still there in private school but it’s not like what I experienced when I was attending the government school.” 

I am not happy with my looks

On measures taken to help himself apart from the small portion of food given to him by his mother, Daniel said,

“I am doing exercise to see if I can change how I look but I am not seeing any improvement. I want my weight to go down. I am not happy with how I look.”

Daniel’s mother, Mrs. Margret Akpan, who gave insight into the plight of her son said that her son was quite small when she gave birth to him on October 14, 2009.

My son became obese after recovering from an illness

The 41-year-old mother said Daniel became obese at the age of two after recovering from illness. She narrated,

“When I gave birth to him in 2009, he was not fat. He weighed 2.5kg at birth. Around a year and six months, he became sick and was given treatment.

In 2011, after he recovered from that illness, he started gaining weight rapidly and when it was becoming too much, I took him to the private hospital where he was treated.

Getting there, the doctor referred us to Massey Street Children’s Hospital, Lagos Island. At Massey, we were asked to carry out certain tests after which one of the results showed he had high cholesterol. 

So, he continued to gain weight to the point that he now developed bowlegs because his legs could no longer carry his weight. The weight began to cause him serious pain in his legs. So, I started giving him Lipton tea, grape water, and lime to see if he would shed weight.

In 2018, the pain in his legs became worse as he could no longer walk again because of his weight.

So, I took him to Massey hospital again. When I got there, they referred us to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital.

It was at LUTH that he was diagnosed with obesity in 2018 after several tests were carried out on him. So, they asked me to bring him to LUTH every Friday for an exercise, but I was not able to do so because of my work.”

Obesity & memory loss

The businesswoman stated that her efforts to help her son to lose weight have not been successful. She lamented:

“He is still obese despite all we have done. You can see his size. I told him to exercise at home but he refused. He is always complaining of tiredness and he eats a lot. If I give him a small portion of food, he will go back and take more.

Apart from the problem of walking and regular pains he experiences on his knees, I noticed that he is having memory loss.

This condition is giving me and his father lots of problems. He is still bedwetting at the age of 13 years. I never knew obesity in children comes with various health challenges.” 

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

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is a complex disease that occurs when an individual’s weight is higher than what is considered healthy for his or her height. 

Obesity, CDC says affects children as well as adults, adding that many factors can contribute to excess weight gain including eating patterns, physical activity levels, and sleep routines.

Experts say obesity is associated with lots of complications both in adults and in children.

Obese children coming down with Type 2 diabetes, hypertension –Experts

A Professor of Paediatric Endocrinology, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Abiola Oduwole, says obese children are now coming down with Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

Prof. Oduwole who is also a Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital noted that children with obesity experience the same problem that adults with obesity experience, warning parents to be wary of their children’s lifestyle.

The clinician pointed out that engaging obese children in regular physical activities remains crucial if they must lose weight. 

WHO had on this year’s World Obesity Day marked on March 4, with the theme “Everybody Needs to Act,” predicted that one in five adults and one in 10 children and teenagers will be obese by December 2023 in 10 high-burden African countries if no robust measures are taken to reverse the trends.

The WHO analysis shows that the prevalence of obesity among adults in the 10 high-burden countries will range from 13.6 per cent to 31 per cent, while in children and adolescents it will range from five per cent to 16.5 per cent.

The analysis also revealed that Africa also faces a growing problem of overweight children, adding that in 2019, the continent was confirmed to be home to 24 per cent of the world’s overweight children aged under five. 

Weighed 6.5kg at birth

Another child battling obesity is Roqeebat Olatunde who was born with it according to her mother, Mrs. Rasheedat Olatunde disclosed that her daughter weighed 6.5 kg at birth.

The 10-year-old primary six pupil while narrating her experience also stated that her weight was making life uncomfortable for her, especially the uncomplimentary remarks she gets from people.

The Ogun State indigene and only child of her parents said she most times goes on an empty stomach to lose weight.

Roqeebat said beyond her condition causing her regular waist and knee pains, it also exposes her to ridicule and stigma before her friends.

The little girl decried her inability to walk a long distance and enjoy certain foods like her peers owing to her weight.

Narrating her ordeal, she said,

“My mummy does not allow me to take sugary things like sweets, soft drinks, cake, and chocolate. I feel bad when I see my friends and classmates eating them and I cannot because of my weight.”

People call my mummy Iya Orobo because of my weight

“Again, my mummy always gives me a small quantity of food to eat, yet people still stigmatise me a lot by calling me all sorts of names. Many don’t call me by my name – Roqeebat, instead, they call me Orobo, fat girl, fatty bum-bum.

They will even accuse me of eating all the food in our house. Because of my weight, people now call my mummy Iya Orobo. The stigma is too much.”

Roqeebat’s mum, Mrs. Rasheedat Olatunde revealed that though they have overweight people in her family, none of them was born with obesity like her daughter.

The businesswoman recounted,

“When I was pregnant with her, the doctor told me that I will deliver her through caesarean section because she was too big. When I delivered her, she weighed 6.5kg.

Since then, she has been growing fat, and walking has always been a problem as she always complains about pain. It has not been easy for her and for me too and the way people address her as Orobo always makes her angry and withdrawn.”

A 7-year-old boy who simply identified himself as Chiemerie and other children and parents who spoke with PUNCH said living with obesity is tough. Chiemerie said:

“I am not happy that I am too fat. I can’t run and play football like my friends because of my weight. And when I get to school, my fellow students will be making fun of me and this always makes me sad.”

Prof. Oduwole who is also President of the Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Endocrine in Nigeria said 70 per cent of obesity in children has to do with nutrition and the environment.

According to her, the remaining 30 per cent has to do with endocrine problems – hormonal problems, warning parents with premature babies not to overfeed them.

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No more playgrounds

Harping on the causes of obesity in children, the physician said,

“A lot of children don’t walk to school anymore instead they enter vehicles. Most schools do not have playgrounds for the children to play and because of insecurity a lot of children are now indoors. 

Before there were lots of open grounds for children to play. But things have changed. All of those are helping to increase the rate of overweight and obese children in urban areas.

In the rural area, we still have under-nutrition. Hardly will you find a child that is obese but you will find underweight children.

The problem we have now is that more and more incursion of what is happening in the urban area is moving into the rural area.”

Continuing, she said,

“Now, we are beginning to see overweight children in the rural area and that was how obesity started in the urban area. We were seeing very few obese children, we were seeing more overweight and now we are seeing obese and overweight at a higher level in the rural area.

Unfortunately, unlike before, we are now beginning to see hypertension in our children because they are obese. 

Yes, it is happening. And to show that things are changing, you have what is called prediabetes. Prediabetes is a stage before it becomes Type 2 diabetes and now we are beginning to see it in children.”

The professor stated that before, Type 2 diabetes was not diagnosed in children, a worrisome development she blamed on obesity. She said:

“Before we don’t see Type 2 diabetes in children, if we see diabetes, we say they are Type 1. But now we are seeing Type 2 diabetes in children which is the one that we see in adults as a result of obesity.

What we are saying is that we are beginning to find comorbidities of obesity and overweight amongst our children, we are beginning to see hypertension, prediabetes, high lipid profile, things that we didn’t see in children before.” 

ALSO SEE: Nigerian Children With Type 1 Diabetes Share Their Ordeal And How The Condition Has Made Their Childhood Unpleasant

Prof. Oduwole urged parents and teachers to avoid calling children with obesity names, stressing that children have feelings and issues affecting children require a multi-faceted approach.

She also enjoined parents to stop buying them chocolates and encourage them to be involved in regular physical activities, emphasizing that physical activity is the way to go in the management of obesity both in adults and children.

Also speaking, a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Nwabumma Asouzu, said in addition to numerous medical concerns, childhood obesity affects children’s and adolescent’s social and emotional health.

Two-year-children stigmatised

The dietician explained,

“Obesity has been described as being “one of the most stigmatising and least socially acceptable conditions in childhood.

Overweight and obese children are often teased and/or bullied for their weight. They also face numerous other hardships including negative stereotypes, discrimination, and social marginalisation.

Discrimination against obese individuals has been found in children as young as two years old. Obese children are often excluded from activities, particularly competitive activities that require physical activity. 

It is often difficult for overweight children to participate in physical activities as they tend to be slower than their peers and contend with shortness of breath.

These negative social problems contribute to low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and a negative body image in children and can also affect academic performance.

All of the above-mentioned negative effects of overweight and obesity can be devastating to children and adolescents.”

Community approach key

Azouzu noted that a combined diet and physical activity intervention conducted in the community with a school component is more effective at preventing obesity or being overweight. The dietician said:

“Moreover, if parents enforce a healthier lifestyle at home, many obesity problems could be avoided. What children learn at home about eating healthy foods, exercising, and making the right nutritional choices will eventually spill over into other aspects of their life.

This will have the biggest influence on the choices kids make when selecting foods to consume at school and fast‑food restaurants and choosing to be active.

“Focusing on these causes may, over time, decrease childhood obesity and lead to a healthier society as a whole.” 

Ticking time bomb

According to the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Africa is facing a growing problem of obesity and overweight.

“This is a ticking time bomb. If unchecked, millions of people, including children, risk living shorter lives under the burden of poor health. But we can resolve the crisis because many of the causes of obesity and overweight are preventable and reversible,”

she said.

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