With obesity reaching epidemic proportions in the UAE, parents need to intervene to curb the serious associated health risks, and to stop the trend persisting into adulthood, says an expert from Imperial College of London Diabetes Centre, a Mubadala Healthcare provider.
Dr Sherif El-Refee, a consultant paediatric endocrinologist and diabetologist, says research indicates that obese children not only face health risks now, but their risk factors for serious health conditions in adulthood are likely to be more severe.
“It is estimated that around 40% of children in the UAE are either overweight or obese, and obesity increases their risk for a host of serious conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, and fatty liver disease.
“Without intervention obesity can continue into adulthood with further risks of heart disease and cancer,” says Dr El-Refee.
He points out that there are also psychological consequences as if children are stigmatized by peers because they are overweight, it can damage their self-esteem and lead to social isolation, even in the long term.
Dr El-Refee cautions, however, that as children are still growing and developing, parents should not simply put them on a calorie-reduced diet without medical supervision.
“The most important measures parents can take are to check that their children eat a nutritionally sound diet, that they exercise enough to burn off the calories consumed, and that they ask for a doctor’s or specialist’s help if they suspect their children need to lose weight,” he says.
Dr Sherif’s tips for parents of overweight or obese children
- Children learn by example, so be sure to set a good one by eating healthily and exercising regularly. Adopt healthy habits as a family, for example, by serving reasonably sized portions at meal times, and concentrating on vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and lean meats.
- Find creative ways to make children’s favourite dishes healthier by adjusting the ingredients, and also look for recipes to make healthy foods more appealing.
- Do not store snacks or sweets in easily accessible areas, and do not use them as treats; instead replace them with non-food treats such as an outing to their favourite place.
- Encourage your child to do at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity such as walking, soccer, or playing tag, on most days or every day.
- Make full use of the physical activity programmes offered at your child’s school, and attend sporting events to support your children.
- Limit your child’s screen time to about two hours per day, and encourage them to do physical activity instead.