MWW: How can parents identify obesity in their children?
Dr Salehuddin: It’s hard to recognise, especially when children are young, since many are chubby. Most paediatricians will monitor a baby’s growth, which is how parents get to know if their baby is growing on track. Parents and paediatricians can come out with a plan to manage the baby’s growth based on a growth chart. Parents need to be more concerned when a child’s weight accelerates faster than expected, especially when they’re not growing much in height. If a child’s weight is accelerating a lot faster than his or her height, even in the toddler phase, the paediatrician will have to look into this as it may be a sign of obesity.
MWW: What are the consequences of childhood obesity?
Dr Salehuddin: Obese children are more prone to diabetes, heart problems, high cholesterol at a much younger age than the average, and have a higher chance of developing joint problems too. They may also encounter issues with self-esteem, as well as psychological illnesses such depression. In this case, depression is often an outcome of low self-esteem, where peers would make fun of a child’s appearance. Sometimes, they develop depression later on in life, even when they’ve outgrown their obesity. Some people wouldn’t even realise it’s linked to childhood obesity.
MWW: What activities should an obese child do, that will help with weight loss?
Dr Salehuddin: Obese children need to be more careful when it comes to exercising, because their joints might not be able to support the pressure of certain exercises. For example, running is a high-impact exercise that can cause early degeneration of joints in the hip or knees. Obese children are also more prone to injuries when they fall down. If a child is moderately obese but fit, then it shouldn’t be much of a problem. But if they’ve not been physically active, they can start with gentle exercises, like walking.
Swimming and cycling are also good exercises to adopt. Swimming is low-impact, and children are naturally inclined to water. I would suggest to parents, if they can, to enroll their children in swimming lessons from as young as possible, even before they start school. It’s also a good cardiovascular exercise that improves heart and lung fitness. At about 2 years old, children are mostly comfortable being in the water, so it shouldn’t be an issue for them. Cycling, on the other hand, is also a good activity to train their balance. Parents who live in urban neighbourhoods can let their children cycle in parks.
Do make exercising a fun thing to do. The momentum has to be built up gradually, starting with something easy, like walking. Letting children play freely at a playground is also a very good social activity, as they can interact with other children.