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Childhood obesity: once fat, permanently fat?


How can the obesity epidemic be overcome?

Childhood obesity and obesity are a rapidly growing problem. "The immense increase in obesity in children exceeds all previous assumptions and has become a dramatic threat to their health," the Foundation for Child Health warns in a current message. Therefore, the experts have summarized a number of practical recommendations that should help prevent childhood obesity.

"Obesity and obesity have reached epidemic proportions and must be fought more consistently by society and politics than before," says the Child Health Foundation. Here, the experts name various measures that could help prevent overweight and obesity in children - from a ban on advertising unhealthy food to the installation of water dispensers. The fight against the obesity epidemic must urgently be advanced.

More and more children are obese

According to Professor Dr. Berthold Koletzko, metabolism expert at the University Children's Hospital in Munich and chair of the Child Health Foundation, has "increased the frequency of obesity and obesity among children and adolescents by more than eight times in the past 40 years." Analysis of 416 studies with more than 160 million children and adolescents from 200 countries. This showed that the percentage of obese girls rose from 0.7 percent in 1975 to 5.6 percent in 2016 and among boys from 0.9 percent to 7.8 percent. This has enormous consequences for the health of the children affected.

Health consequences of weight problems

Based on the representative figures from the nationwide study “KiGGS”, the Child Health Foundation reports that 15 percent of three to seventeen year old children in Germany are overweight and 6.3 percent are obese. The list of possible health consequences ranges from "diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke to cirrhosis of the liver, diseases of the muscular and skeletal system and certain types of cancer to psychological stress, impaired performance and depression", according to the Children's Health Foundation. "Obesity is more than baby fat, trombone angels live dangerously," emphasizes Professor Koletzko.

Increased early risk of death

Over the next forty years of life in obese adolescents, compared to normal-weight peers, their risk of death increases by 4.9 times and that of all cardiovascular causes by 3.5 times, reports the Children's Health Foundation, citing current studies. Compared to normal-weight children, there was also a 1.4-fold increased risk of psychological abnormalities in overweight adolescents (a 2.5-fold increased risk in obese adolescents).

Life is greatly shortened

Overall, obesity in young adults shortens their lives by 2.5 years, mild obesity shortens their lives by almost six years and in severe obesity they live six to eight years shorter, reports the Child Health Foundation. "This means that severe obesity shortens life more than some malignant diseases," emphasizes Professor Berthold Koletzko.

Excess pounds do not "grow together"

Prof. Koletzko expressly contradicts the hope of many parents that the excess pounds of the children "grow together" over time. This is a false hope. "If a child or adolescent suffers from obesity, their weight will generally not normalize again later," the expert continues. "A fat child does not get slim," emphasizes Prof. Koletzko. It is therefore important to actively counteract this and remedy the causes of the weight problems.

Causes of the Obesity Epidemic

However, the causes of the obesity epidemic are very diverse, according to the Child Health Foundation. Seductive advertising, the easy availability of unhealthy food and sweet drinks play a role here, as does the massive use of screen media, smartphones and cell phones and the associated lack of exercise. Sugar-containing drinks are also becoming increasingly clear that they are an independent risk factor for excessive weight gain.

Children should drink water

The Children's Health Foundation therefore recommends that children should be accustomed to drinking water from an early age and that sugary drinks such as lemonade, cola drinks, sweetened teas or ice teas, fruit juices, fruit nectars or fruit juice spritzers should remain the exception. According to the experts, no sugary drinks should be offered in educational institutions for children and adolescents of all ages. “The TigerKids kindergarten program developed by the Child Health Foundation with its simple and practical elements, for example, shows that this can actually succeed,” reports Professor Koletzko.

Sample projects in day care centers

For the project, chewing information from the Children's Health Foundation set up a drinking station in the day care center, where water and sugar-free teas are offered. The children also prepare fruit plates with chopped vegetables and pieces of fruit. After a short time, the success was shown. "It becomes a habit for preschool children to drink water and eat vegetables and fruit regularly and naturally," reports the Child Health Foundation. The acclimatization of children to health-promoting behavior then leads to more frequent consumption of vegetables, fruits and water at home and a decrease in the consumption of sweetened drinks.

Water dispensers help

Another example, according to the Foundation, is the TrinkFit study carried out in North Rhine-Westphalia. Primary school children were given their own drinking bottles and were able to obtain sparkling or still drinking water from a water dispenser at any time. The installation of water dispensers alone led to drinking more water and a lower consumption of sugary drinks "and after one school year, the frequency of being overweight was 31 percent lower than in control schools," reports the Child Health Foundation. It shows how important it is to motivate children to drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Advertising with a fatal effect

According to the experts, the advertising of food for children on television and through social media also plays a fateful role in the obesity epidemic. This has been shown to influence the preference, purchase and consumption of unbalanced and thickening products such as cola, chips and sweet snacks. The commitment of some large companies to voluntarily limit the advertising aimed at children under the age of 12 has also proved to be a mere eyewash. "A study in the United States showed that the voluntary self-limitation of advertising to children that was offered by companies was not effective," said Professor Koletzko.

Manufacturer's restrictions do not work

Furthermore, preschool children are already exposed to the advertising of unhealthy food in children's programs every day, reports Prof. All previous attempts to better educate people about healthy eating and drinking have proven to be largely in vain in this country too. The food industry has so far successfully fended off legal regulations by lobbying. In Germany, the evaluation of nutrients and uniform labeling of food quality using simple symbols is still not mandatory, although this is a requirement of the World Health Organization (WHO).

What are the necessary measures?

Since the manufacturers' voluntary commitments do not work or even turn out to be a mock pack, it is "high time for stricter legal regulations, for clear and understandable labeling of foods and for their effective official monitoring", so the urgent demand of the Child Health Foundation. Stricter rules are urgently needed and individual measures are not sufficient to stop the ominous development. According to the experts, the most important measures to be implemented include:

  • The consistent promotion of breastfeeding;
  • limiting high sugar consumption through education and legislative measures;
  • promoting water consumption by taxing heavily sugared beverages;
  • the restriction of advertising aimed at children in mass media and on the social media of the Internet;
  • easy and understandable labeling of food so that consumers can quickly identify the better products.

Science, society and politics have to work together

Overall, science, society and politics, in the opinion of the Child Health Foundation, need to work more closely together "to change the fat-filling environment of the children." The implementation of regular exercise activities in daycare centers, schools and during leisure time is also important, emphasizes Professor Koletzko. According to the expert, children and adolescents should exercise at least 90 minutes a day. In addition, parents should limit their children's audiovisual media to a maximum of two hours a day, Professor Koletzko added. And last but not least, children, parents and caregivers must have knowledge and practical skills on drinks, nutrition and health. (fp)

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