Simple tricks to curb child obesity in your home

The epidemic of overweight children has been in the spotlight for the past 10 years and for good reason

Racha Adib

Published: Updated:

The epidemic of overweight children has been in the spotlight for the past 10 years and for good reason. Childhood obesity rates have doubled, which means more and more children are showing signs of diabetes and heart disease, ailments that typically only affect adults.

The world’s heaviest baby

Take the example of Columbian eight-month-old Santiago Mendoza, who carries the weight of a six-year-old. Possibly the world’s heaviest baby, he weighs in at 20 kg, a weight dangerously over the 7-9 kg average range for a baby his age. Santiago has been in and out of the hospital for the duration of his short time due to the extra weight he carries.

Scroll down for a step-by-step guide on how to prevent obesity in your family

His mother Eunice admits it was her fault. She said Santiago was born with anxiety and every time he cried she fed him. Her son could barely move, crawl, or even be carried, which left them both home-bound. Unless Santiago receives adequate care, he will not only face grave health problems but a delay in his motor development as well.

Santiago doesn’t stand alone. Today one in 10 children worldwide are overweight. Overweight and obesity rates in the Eastern Mediterranean countries, which includes all Arab countries except Algeria, is the second highest after the Americans and surpasses the rates in European countries. In a study published in the Journal of Obesity in 2011 found the prevalence of obesity in children between 2 and 19 years was the highest in Bahrain (15% M, 18 % F), followed by the United Arab Emirates (13% M and F), Kuwait (9% M, 11% F), Qatar (8% M, 5% F), Lebanon (8% M, 3%F), and Saudi Arabia (6% M, 7% F).

As a result, many Middle Eastern countries have been reporting cases of adult diabetes, high blood lipid levels, high blood pressure, and a large waist line, which are known as the metabolic syndrome when combined. Available data suggests that 9% to 14% of adolescents aged 10-19 years have these syndromes, all of which are leading causes of death around the world.

Where are we going wrong?

Over the last 2 decades, the rapid development of the Arab world has brought about a lifestyle characterized by more convenience, and some would argue, excess.

For instance, Western fast food that is high in fats, sugar, and salt is easily accessible. In Lebanon, school children are abandoning home cooked Mediterranean food and adopting a fast food diet. In many Arab countries, especially in the Gulf, eating is part of socializing. In Saudi Arabia, average calorie intake increased by 60% from 1971 to 2005.

This trend is accompanied with an inactive lifestyle due to availability of cars and widespread use of computers, TVs, and electronics. In UAE, it was found that 58% of males and 75% of females were inactive.

#ActNow for healthier children

To prevent obesity in your family, follow the 5, 2, 1, 0 rule:

5: Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

• Not only are they high in essential vitamins and minerals your child needs to grow and develop, but they’re a great source of fiber which fills your child up.

• What counts as a serving? One serving of fruits is the size of a tennis ball such as a medium apple, 3 dates, a small orange, 2 pineapple slices, or a small banana.

• A serving of vegetables is a cup of raw vegetables such as in a salad or a half cup of cooked vegetables such as in a stew.

2: Two hours of screen time or less per day.

• Screen time includes watching TV as well as sitting on the computer, playing video games, or even messaging.

• Limit screen time to 2 hours or less a day for the whole family and keep your child active by having them jump rope, hula hoop, or play catch.

1: One hour or more of physical activity per day.

• Being active is good for your child’s physical and mental well-being. But more than half of children are not reaching sufficient activity levels.

• Get active as a whole family.

• Consider going hiking, biking, swimming, or golfing. Indirectly increase activity by walking to school or shops or using the stairs instead of the elevator when you can.

0: Zero sugar sweetened beverages per day.

• The most highlighted contributor to childhood obesity is the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages such as juices, punches, and milk shakes.

• Instead give your child plain milk or water or choose fresh fruits instead.

• If you can’t go without juice, limit the quantity to a half cup of unsweetened fruit juice.