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Childhood Obesity - A Personal Angle

Childhood Obesity - Our biggest future health challenge.

We have all read or heard the facts. New Zealand's’ children are amongst some of the most overweight children in the World. A shocking statistic.  I wanted to look at the reasons behind this problem, the implications for our health system in future and how we can start to turn back the tide  But firstly I wanted to share my personal story and to look at the psychological impact of being overweight can have on a child.

As a youngster I was always a very good weight, healthy and athletic and I never had a problem with obesity but  as I started to approach puberty things changed rapidly and I started to put on a little extra, as is perhaps quite normal as hormonal changes and growth spurts take place but for me it was devastating. 

I was a gymnast and any weight gain natural or otherwise was met with derision, pressure to constantly try to lose weight and with humiliation and bullying.  This had a huge impact on my self-esteem and confidence. I was actually never statistically classed as overweight but the pressure I experienced left large psychological scars that had far-reaching consequences for my later development and life path. 

I share this story because I want to explore the psychological trauma that being overweight brings with it for the individual child. It’s  a part of the discussion often forgotten in the statistical analysis of the obesity epidemic that is rightly, more concerned with health implications and costs to the public health system, but lets look briefly at the flip side of the coin, the child's’ developing self-image, identity and confidence.

When a child is overweight they often experience bullying by their peers, they often lack the confidence to participate in sports for fear of looking silly or not being included and this in turns leads to being less active which exacerbates the problem.

For me I hated my body and would hide behind layers of baggy clothes, I believed myself ugly and unattractive and this once again had implications for the way I interacted with other people and in developing healthy relationships.

A lack of self-esteem, of confidence can lead to self-hatred which can then lead to young people feeling alone, isolated, misunderstood, making them feel they don’t fit in anywhere.  It can lead to relationships hat aren’t healthy because you don’t value yourself and to a host of compensating behaviours as they try to deal with the internal pain. 

 Of course not every child who is overweight or obese will suffer from a poor self-esteem some will be quite happy in their skin and ignore any negativity implied by society.  
But in many cases it will have a detrimental effect.

So how do we protect our children from the psychological and indeed the physiological implications of obesity now and in the future?
Ben Warren  leading nutritionist from Be Pure says:

“I believe our children are so overweight because of the amount of simple, processed carbohydrates they are eating, and the resulting insulin response which is telling their body to store the energy as fat.

The future implications for these children are devastating!  Their bodies  are going to make more fat cells, these fat cells will stay with them for the rest of their life, setting them up for a future where they are always going to struggle with their weight and as a result they are going to have to work much harder to maintain a healthy weight for the rest of their life.”

When we consider that  it’s not a child's’ fault  that they are overweight, a child doesn’t have the ability to understand the implications, to choose the healthy option or to decipher what on earth the healthy option is then we must also understand it is us who are responsible collectively, for their future poor health, suffering and their oftentimes life long struggle and that is not to mention the load that  this epidemic will have on our public health system.  This could literally bankrupt public health in future.

It’s the responsibility of the parts of society that are charged with the children's’ wellbeing to make those correct choices for them namely parents, schools, health practitioners, sporting associations, the government and we need to act decisively and quickly.

A multi-pronged approach is required by the different agencies to attack this epidemic. 
The food industry whose sole aim is to make more money has to, in my opinion, be more regulated by taxes on the likes of sugary drinks. In their article in the NZ medical Journal Steven Kelly and Boyd Swinburn state:
“Many countries have now introduced taxes on unhealthy foods including Hungary, France, Mexico and some states in the US. Results from modeling studies suggest that tax on unhealthy foods is the single most cost-effective approach to tackling obesity”.

Another option is restrictions on advertising for example in sport, by fast food chains when you see your idols consuming the likes of McDonalds and Burger Kind children associate success, health and fitness with these brands, 

The energy dense, nutrient poor, over processed foods are the foods most that are unfortunately the most readily available to us. 
It’s cheaper and easier by far to go a fast food joint for lunch than it is to buy fruit and vegetables and make meals from scratch as was the norm a mere 30 years ago and in this day and age when parents are extremely busy the quick option is the easy one to take.

Education in schools around what is healthy is well underway and this needs to expand, many schools now have their own vegetable gardens and teach children the importance of exercise and movement, long may this continue. But it’s obviously not enough to turn the tide. . The past 30 years has seen obesity statistics among children triple. This must be reversed. To do nothing is to head for disaster both as individuals and as a society and nation.