September 21, 2014 - "An entire generation is being destroyed by a diet of junk food and sugary drinks,” says Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England who is requesting an emergency task force consisting of doctors, nurses, dieticians, dentists and schools to tackle this pervasive and very serious health problem.
“Many parents don't recognise their children are obese because many of them are obese themselves,” said Dr. Nigel Mathers Sheffield GP, adding that a culture of denial exists among many of his patients.
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and 11 other organisations are calling for:
- better co-ordination of obesity treatment services so that children are inspired to eat healthy foods at a young age
- increased support for the National Child Measurement Programme
- improved investment in IT programmes for weight management
- more training in malnutrition and obesity for GPs and other health professionals
- outreach projects to educate families about the dangers of obesity
"The nutritional patterns laid out in early years can define a child's health for life and the stark fact is that overweight children are being set up for a lifetime of sickness and health problems,” said Dr. Rachel Pryke, Clinical Lead for Nutrition at the RCGP.
"Obesity is the new normal and we need a unified approach to manage it," says Dr. Pryke.
Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard from the Royal College of GPs suggested, "These kids are going to turn into larger and larger adults, which means they are at much higher risk of serious heart disease, cancers, strokes, as they get older.”
"But even more worrisome is some of these children, (children as young as seven), are developing diabetes - and the sort of diabetes associated with increased weight in middle age."
Tam Fry, chair of the Child Growth Foundation and spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum, strongly suggested that the emphasis should be on stopping children getting fat in the first place.
"We need action now….proper monitoring of children's weight from birth and then every year of their lives - and this has to happen through the General Practitioner,” suggests Fry.
The 2012 Health Survey for England concluded that:
- 14% of children from 2 to 15 years of age were obese and 28% were categorized as overweight or obese.
- Children from 11 to 15 years of age were more likely to be obese with 1 in 5 children placed in that category.
- Children living in the poorest areas of the country are almost twice as likely to be obese compared to those in the most affluent areas when they are at primary school.
Jamie Oliver, a brilliant, tenacious advocate who believes ‘healthy food = healthy kids’ and founder of Food Revolution, challenged politicians to get serious about fighting childhood obesity not only in schools, but also in homes, workplaces, supermarkets, fast food outlets and the food industry, claiming that "positive social change" can be achieved.
“Let’s see if we have one pioneer, one visionary who’s going to put prevention [of childhood obesity] at the heart of their campaign. Let’s see how many of them [the political parties] start really talking about children’s health and public health,” said Jamie Oliver.
A general election will take place next year.
“You can’t have one arm of the government investing money in food education and school lunches and then have another part allowing junk food, en masse, to be licensed and given permission to trade within a stone’s throw of a school on every corner,” said Oliver.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health estimate that obesity is costing the National Health Service around £5.1 billion a year.
The World Health Organization states that the number of obese and overweight children in the world could balloon from 44 million in 2012 to 75 million in 2025.
How Do Canadian Children & Youth Measure Up?
According to Statistics Canada, one in three Canadian children and youth from 5 to 17 years-of-age (about 1.6 million kids) are overweight or obese.
The Canadian Journal of Public Health stated that obesity rates are at an all-time high in Canada with at least 25% of Canadian adults overweight, obese or morbidly obese. In 2008, obesity cost the Canadian economy about $4.6 billion, up about 20% from 2000.
Scientists and doctors who specialize in child obesity have undertaken a study of 1,600 children between the ages of 2 to 17 who are enrolled in one of eight weight management clinics affiliated with children’s hospitals in Edmonton, Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.
Dr. Katherine Morrison, Associate Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at Hamilton’s McMaster University and Co-Director of the MAC-Obesity research program stated that the increase of overweight and obese children in preschool is disturbing. Some children are so heavy they have difficulty moving and some have developed sleep apnea because of excess fat obstructing their airway.
“Perhaps most concerning are the mental health challenges that often go together with obesity…including anxiety and depression and the psychological torment of bullying and teasing in school,” said Morrison.
Dr. Geoff Ball, Associate Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Alberta and Director of the Paediatric Centre for Weight and Health at Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton said, “Sometimes it’s just a lack of awareness or a lack of knowledge…but it usually comes down to what moms and dads are doing – what sort of choices they’re making for their family.”
80% of parents who have overweight or obese children are overweight themselves.
Research suggests that biological programming starts in the womb. Food that pregnant women eat can influence a baby’s response when they start eating solid foods.
The ‘Canadian Paediatric Weight Management Registry’ will try to determine which interventions are working so they can try to prevent these children from a lifetime of suffering.
Presently obesity and obesity related illnesses are taxing hospital programs with 6-month waiting lists, if not longer. Children with “complex severe obesity” are waiting, on average, about nine months for services at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.
Psychological Relationship with Food
Psychological scientist and lead researcher Jennifer A. Silvers, a post-doctoral fellow at Columbia University in the laboratory of Professor Kevin Ochsner suggested that children as young as six years-of-age can learn to use a cognitive strategy for self-discipline after just a few minutes of training, which would have huge implications for interventions.
Researchers noted that children who concentrated on the visual aspect of food while ignoring the flavour aspect could assist them to develop a sense of self-discipline.
"We believe this research has implications for a wide range of people, from basic scientists who are interested in how reward processing changes across the lifespan, to obesity researchers looking to devise interventions to curb childhood obesity, to parents and paediatricians trying to raise healthier and happier kids," said Silvers in ‘Food Craving Is Stronger, but Controllable for Kids,’ published in the ‘Association for Psychological Science’ Journal.
Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines state that children and youth aged 12-17 years of age should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily but only 4% meet that requirement.
Ontario is one of three provinces in Canada with an education curriculum requiring 20 minutes of Daily Physical Activity (DPA) but the University of Toronto found that not one child out of 900 children outfitted with accelerometers, was getting their 20 minutes of exercise, and less than 50% were getting any DPA.
Canadian children and youth received a D- in their annual report card from Active Healthy Kids Canada when it comes to physical activity. Austria, Ireland, the United States and Scotland also received the same score.
Mozambique and New Zealand were at the top of the list with a B grade. New Zealand attributes its overall physical activity grade to their active play philosophy and found that children were more active when they banned all safety-based playground rules.
“Our society values efficiency - we build more, do more and impose more structure - but perhaps this approach is somewhat misguided when it comes to getting kids more active,” said Mark Tremblay of Active Healthy Kids Canada.
“A child’s day is so structured that there is no room for free play or walking or biking to school.”
Active Healthy Kids Canada - Research Facts:
- 62% of parents with children from 5 to11 years-of-age are driven to and from school by car, bus or other means of transportation.
- Children 5 to 11 years-of-age spend an average of 7.6 hours in sedentary position at home and at school.
- 84% of children between the ages of 3 to 4 are meeting the required guidelines of 180 minutes of activity per day.
- 7% of children between the ages of 5 to 11 meet the required amount of daily exercise, which is reduced to 60 minutes after the age of 5.
- 4% of children and youth between the ages of 12 to 17 meet the required amount of daily exercise.
On a global scale, an analysis of 105 countries found that only 20% of children from the age of 11 to 15 reported doing 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
Children and Obesity – includes ‘Ways to Help Your Children Maintain a Healthy Weight’