• Friday, June 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

The dangers of childhood obesity

Urban children more prone to obesity – study

Harry sat down in the waiting room of the clinic where he had brought his children to see their specialist doctor. He’d never imagined that things were going to get to this point where his children had become regulars at a heart clinic before they became teenagers, not to talk of adulthood. His wife was also recovering from a stroke that had left her with some movement deficits and he had brought her for physiotherapy at the same clinic too. He was truly fortunate that none of his loved ones had even died, and in the midst of all that was happening he kept counting his blessings.

He remembered his childhood. He had grown up in a comfortable home and his parents had spoilt him ignorantly by making sure he had access to any type of soft drinks, biscuits, sweets and niceties that he wanted. His parents had waited 15 years for his arrival and when he came, nothing was off limits to their precious son including food. He practically decided the type of foods he wanted, and he remembered that he ate fried ripe plaintain (dodo), fried eggs and an assortment of meats at least once a day. He was quite overweight, and his mother loved it because according to her, ‘their son looked well taken care of’.

Harry’s parents were also very protective, so he didn’t spend a lot of time outdoors.

As soon as he returned from school, he was literally locked indoors with very little physical activity or exercise. His parents also bought the latest video games for him to keep him from getting bored and that was supplemented with a lot of television. It was only when he resumed at a boarding secondary school where he started getting physically active, and his access to sodas and sweets were cut off that his weight dropped. As soon as the holidays began, it was back to being ‘pumped up’ again by his mother because he had to look like someone that money was being spent on. He had always been on the heavy side and didn’t have any memory of himself having a normal weight.

His wife’s journey was a bit different. She had grown up in an abusive environment, watching her mother eat whenever she was sad which was a lot of the time. Food was used as a coping mechanism and that was the same tool she still used. Even though their marriage was great, her career was really stressful, and she used food to cope because it made her feel better. She barely had time for herself not to talk of exercising and over the years she had become seriously overweight, with complications such as hypertension and diabetes setting in. These had culminated in her having a stroke at work and it was just by divine providence that she was alive.

The thought of his children broke his heart. He had repeated the same mistakes his parents made with his children even on a larger scale. Their portion sizes were even larger than his had been and the processed foods his children consumed had a lot of salt in them, in addition to sugar. His children were overweight, and he had always blamed their genes for it; he had been told that in their family they had big bones. It wasn’t until one of his children collapsed at school one day that they realised that the child was hypertensive. The doctor decided to run comprehensive tests on all of them and they were all hypertensive and pre-diabetic. He had no idea up until that time that children could have hypertension and diabetes.

The specialist doctor who saw them helped him to clear many of the misconceptions he had had over the years, starting with the genetic theory. He learnt that genes contributed less than 5% to cases of childhood obesity and that parenting lifestyles (food, activity level, work-related demands), environment and cultures were influences. Excessive sugar and fat intake as well as reduced physical activity were the major causes. He learnt that 95% of these were within their control and he knew that to live and thrive, they would have to do everything differently.