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Take controlChildren need to step up and take responsibility

From Mr Ayush Walia
Pupil studying in Dubai

Personally, I feel that as parents, it is their job to ensure that they provide everything they can in order to make sure that their children receive the best in life. But when it comes to obesity, there is not much a parent can do. They can control the diet of their child when he or she is eating with the family. However, if the child is exposed to fast foods when they go out with their friends, there is not much that parents can do to control their eating habits. It is not that parents are neglecting their child’s diet, it is just the limited control that they have over their eating habits.

I think that it is safe to say that no parent would want their child to suffer from obesity. It is their responsibility to ensure that their child does not suffer from any disease and lives a healthy life. However, in the modern day, with fast food joints investing heavily into propaganda that encourages children to feast on the latter, there is not much parents can do to control the eating habits. They cannot stop their own child from eating food as that might seem inhuman, but can only advise and consult them to do the right thing. The rest depends on the exposure children have towards such food joints and the approach they take in shaping their own lives.

Balance: Peer pressure takes over parental advice

From Mr Jayesh Gandhi
Engineering professional and father of two daughters

Childhood obesity has emerged as a major health challenge around the globe, affecting children worldwide and if the current trend continues, the numbers are likely to increase at an alarming pace.

In the UAE as well, obesity among children has seen a dramatic rise in recent years. More than 60 per cent of UAE residents are overweight, including children and adults. The main reasons contributing to this excess weight are food habits and lack of physical exercise.

Parents have an important role to play in advocating to their children the adverse effects of obesity. We, as parents, encourage our daughters to eat healthy and nutritional food. In fact, as a daily routine, we prefer home-cooked food and avoid outside food. However, as parents we must also understand that children are under tremendous peer pressure and attracted towards junk food. I would also have to admit that junk food tastes quite good! To balance this, on weekends, we eat out, thereby balancing the food habits. In our case, this habit has worked out quite well, heling us maintain good health. Being active and eating healthy shouldn’t feel like a chore to the child and should be incorporated in an enjoyable way, as simple as playing tag.

I believe, if children are not guided properly, then they tend to get carried away by their peers towards an unhealthy lifestyle, including the type of food they eat and lack of physical exercise. So, there is a direct correlation between negligent parenting and obesity. In today’s world, in many instances, both the parents are working and they have little time to spend with their children. Hence, most of the time children are in the company of their friends. In such a scenario, it is even more likely that children get carried away by their peers. Even if parents try to encourage a healthy lifestyle, since they cannot be with their children throughout the day, peer pressure takes precedence over parents’ advice.

In today’s world, there is no dearth in the amount of information available on various topics, including obesity. So, the harmful effects of obesity such as depression and bullying, decrease in children’s self-esteem and mental well-being should be known to parents, as well as children.

To avoid the psychological problems continuing into adulthood, it is important to tackle childhood obesity early. Children need a healthy diet and around 60 minutes of exercise a day, which can be split between school and extra-curricular activities.

Love: Set the right example and they will follow

From Ms Joanne Jewell
Founder of a parenting consultancy

The majority of parents I work with and support are very aware of the importance of providing a healthy, balanced diet for their children and put a lot of time and effort into this area of their parenting. Fast food is easily available and parents might choose to provide it as a treat or on rare occasions. However, I do not see it being a major part of children’s diet in my work. What I do come across a lot is families where parents struggle with children not wanting to eat healthy foods and having a limited number of foods that they will eat on a regular basis.

It is important that we provide regular opportunities to model healthy eating with our children and families may find this challenging if parents are working and do not get the chance to eat meals with their children on a regular basis. My advice is that children learn through consistency, boundaries applied with respect and compassion and lots and lots of role modelling. If you are doing all this and you are still struggling with your children’s diet then please seek medical advice and further support.

Also, I think there can be a correlation between parenting and obesity if children are not being provided with healthy, balanced meals and parents are not aware of the best nutritional sources for their children. I support parents to provide a positive healthy example for their children and for children who may have sensory difficulties or other reasons for not wanting to eat or being able to eat certain foods, there is also support from specialists in the UAE. But if a parent is struggling with their own weight, they might not be aware of or be able to support their child to manage their own food intake. I think most parents are aware of the importance of a positive self-image and good self-esteem for their child. However, they might not be aware of the impact this situation could have on their child at school, for example, or how to support their child. Children’s mental well-being is based on a number of factors and some parents might have grown up themselves believing that we can show a child love through providing food. We need to help parents understand that we show children love through providing a safe, secure environment with boundaries.

Circumstances: Various factors are making the region a hot spot for Type 2 diabetes

From Dr Andrew Jamieson
Consultant endocrinologist at a clinic in Dubai

There is a clear trend in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region of excess weight and obesity, and a frightening acceleration in the rise in the number of cases of childhood overweight and obesity in recent years, making the Gulf region a pressure cooker for the development of Type 2 diabetes mellitus in young people.

The causes of increasing weight in children relate to reductions in daily and weekly exercise participation, either planned — such as in school related activity — or ad hoc activities that might have occurred in family groups. Many family activities that were common in the past in the region have been replaced by indoor activities or are performed by staff involved in doing manual or outside work.

Just a few months ago, Dubai undertook the 30-day fitness challenge pioneered by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council. Despite the popularity of the challenge, it is unclear just how many people have translated this challenge into a long-lasting fitness effort in the Year of Zayed.

In parallel with this under exercising of the population, there has been a rapid and almost overwhelming increase in the access to food and beverages representing the great diversity of the people in Dubai. The ease of access and relatively cheap cost of fat- and sugar-rich foods is an obvious driver to increase daily calorie consumption and exacerbate the effects of reduced energy consumption by exercise.

The factors driving this are complex.

Many families require both the parents to work to ensure that bills are paid and that often results in parents having limited direct control over their children’s nutrition and exercise, often from a young age. This can lead to a slow and often insidious minor excess in calorie intake and limitation in exercise, which in the long term can have profound cumulative effects on body weight.

Social pressures to conform by drinking energy drinks, eating certain fast foods and playing video games coupled with genuine difficulty in exercising outdoors in certain times of the year can all contribute to the progressive rise in obesity, which is so clearly evident in the GCC nations. Going to the mall can be a great social occasion for families or young people, but the other side of the coin is that eating fast food and high calorie energy drinks often go hand in hand with this and can deceive even the most observant parent.

The effects of obesity on children is significant. Physical health issues and effects on mental health are not distinct and one can often mask the effect of the other. Obesity is the number one risk factor for Type 2 diabetes in this region and the effects of that on young people are devastating. Do parents really understand the high risk of blindness, kidney failure, heart disease and amputation, which is likely to affect young people in their 20’s and 30’s if the current rate of obesity is unchecked? The effect of obesity on self-esteem, body consciousness, mood and relationships can be devastating and parents might not be attuned to the effects on school performance and other aspects of teen years that may result in underachievement and long term unhappiness.

— Compiled by Huda Tabrez/Community Web Editor


Gulf News asked: Who/what is responsible for the rise in childhood obesity?

• Parents
• Unhealthy lifestyle
• Junk food advertising

- Have Your Say: Are we parenting obesity into children by neglecting their diet and falling back on the instant food trend? Is there a direct correlation between negligent parenting and obesity? Or have you seen instances where parents encouraged a healthy lifestyle but faced other challenges? If so, what were they? Do parents underestimate the damage obesity can do on a child’s mental and physical wellbeing? Share your views and join us for future debates. Write to us at readers@gulfnews.com