This week's news that 22 percent of people worldwide will be obese by 2045 if trends continue put the spotlight on the health of the youngest generations. With child obesity on the rise in the US and 18 percent of children and teenagers aged 5-19 classified as overweight or obese in 2016, according to the World Health Organization, here are five tips for parents designed to help protect children from the dangers of this global epidemic.
Pay attention to your lifestyle before your child is born
According to a study published by the British medical journal The Lancet in April of this year, children born to obese parents and children born to mothers who eat an unbalanced diet during pregnancy (including diet sodas) may be predisposed to obesity. It follows that embracing a healthier lifestyle before your child is born can help to prevent him or her from developing obesity later on.
Delay giving them sugar for as long as possible
Nutritionists warn against the excessive consumption of sugar too early in life. Before the age of three, they recommend limiting treats to fruit puree, dairy snacks, and the occasional cookie, all the more so because parents who feed children too much sugar often do not give them enough healthy fats in the form of eggs, goat and ewe's cheese and oleaginous fruits and nuts. Heavily processed industrial foods (pastries, chocolate bars, breads and manufactured cereals, pizzas, fruit juices, jams and spreads) should be avoided, especially if they contain fructose or glucose syrup.
Less screen-time and more sports
Along with increased cardiovascular risk, children who accumulate extra pounds before the age of five may keep them well into their teens and adulthood. To help children avoid becoming couch potatoes, parents should exercise themselves, spend less time in front of screens and set a good example. The goal should be to emphasize outdoor and sports activities that appeal to children.
Make sure they get enough sleep
Diet and exercise are not the only factors that favor obesity. Numerous studies have shown that lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on children's weight, because it increases their appetite for fatty and sugary foods. Under-18s who sleep less than they should are more likely to be overweight (+58%), according to a meta-analysis recently published by the journal Sleep. Children aged 13 to 17 should get eight to ten hours of sleep per day, while children in the three-to-five age group need 10 to 13 hours per day.
Encourage children to meditate
Not only do they reduce stress and anxiety, meditation and hypnosis are also effective for the treatment of addictions, and notably food addictions in young children. In a program that began this year at the University Hospital of Rouen, in France's Seine-Maritime, close to 60 patients have been taught how to resist the lure of food through the use of techniques that focus their attention elsewhere.
Mohammad Monir Hossan
Senior Assistant Director (Division of Research)