Childhood obesity, a rapidly acquiring global pandemic that is affecting many low and middle income countries, is one of the most serious health challenges of the 21st century. It’s prevalence has increased at an alarming rate. In 2016, the number of overweight children under the age of five was estimated to be over 41 million. Meaning almost half of all overweight children under 5 lived in Asia and a quarter lived in Africa.
Studies of child nutrition and growth have shown many ways in which parents impact their child’s development and other food and activity related behavior. Some parental roles that affects a child’s development are:
Even before an infant is born, aspects of his mother’s pregnancy can put him or her at a risk of being overweight in childhood and later in life. An unhealthy lifestyle can increase the risk of metabolic abnormalities, including obesity, hypertension and non-insulin dependent diabetes. Expecting mothers and new mothers need to be very careful about their diet. Any over indulgence in processed food or junk food can lead to weight gain in the child.
Toddlers and Preschool Children
Being the most impressionable and influential stage of life, childhood, is when a majority of dietary habits are formed. Children develop most of their food habits through exposure and repeated experience. In the early years of a child’s life, parents have a direct role in shaping the environment such that the child can indulge in healthy eating habits. Controlling the intake of junk food and sugary items and encouraging them to undertake physical activities is crucial to ensure good health. Parents need to work towards health as lifestyle development begins at home.
School-Aged Children and Youth
As children grow older they prioritize less on their home environment and are focused and influenced more by outside factors. That is, children spend more time away from home and get more exposed to environments that encourages unhealthy habits. Parents do not usually have a hold or control over eating habits. It is here that long-standing habits hold the child in good stead. Healthy habits once established stay with the child. Ensuring that a child focuses on physical activities while also practicing healthy dietary habits becomes crucial at this juncture as a child becomes an adult.
Parents who control or restrict what their young children eat may believe they are doing what is best for their child, but recent research challenges this assumption. Children today are more independent than ever, and simple prohibition will hardly work with them. Sharing information is a far better idea. Prevention programs can work far better.
Thus, creating more programs to improve parenting behavior is hugely relevant to childhood obesity and overweightness and makes for a highly promising strategy. Achieving the goal of preventing and controlling childhood obesity requires multifaceted strategies. In this, parents have a critical and influential role to play. Interventions should be executed from the very earliest stages of child development in order to make health conscious changes. With more information at hand and empathetic understanding parents can influence their child’s dietary practices, physical activity, sedentary behaviors and ultimately weight status
Family based obesity prevention programs
Surprisingly there is very little high quality data on the effectiveness of obesity prevention. One reason for the paucity of data is that, despite some studies that indicate promising results, few programs are solely parents based. For instance, many school based programs aim at preventing childhood obesity are targeted at children within school settings but include parental components that help parents set limits on television and lock out electronic devices. At Skooc, we have created a program that includes both the children as well as the parents. This program encourages building positive habits and aids the formation of healthy life patterns. The program also focuses on developing an environment that fosters healthy eating habits and physical activity among children and adolescents.