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It wasn’t too long ago that the Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC) in 2009 discussed the issue of childhood obesity issues in Asia.

During their AFIC symposium on Food Safety Initiatives in Asia/Pacific 2009 held at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, food industry experts from across Asia Pacific congregated to discuss various food related issues ranging from food safety program in Asia, building safety into farm production, food safety developments in China, and in particular, the tackling of childhood obesity.

They highlighted that the rapid modernisation of China and other Asian countries has produced a sharp increase in the rate of obesity and diabetes in Asia, and that the rates of childhood obesity are rising at 1 percent each year, which is similar to the rates experienced by Britain, the US and Australia.

How about us Singaporeans? How fat are our kids?

First-World Fat

According to the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, National University Hospital and Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS, 12.7 per cent of children were overweight in 2006 compared to 10.2 per cent in 1999.

While that’s not as high as 1 percent each year, obviously, childhood obesity is not one of the “world-class” standards that we would ever want to aspire to. And since it’s been four years since the last survey, our childhood obesity rate could be at 14%, which means we’re past the tipping point for an epidemic of childhood obesity.

That eventually turns into adult obesity. According to National Health Survey statistics, the prevalence of obesity amongadults between 18 and 69 years increased steadily from 5.1% in 1992 to 6.0% in 1998, and to 6.9% in 2004. The prevalence of overweight has also crept upwards: 21.1% in 1992, to 24.4% in 1998, and to 25.6 % in 2004.

Fat’s a shame

Childhood obesity is known to have a severe impact on children physically, emotionally and socially. Health-wise, they are exposed to various physical health conditions like hypertension, heart diseases, fatty liver, gallstones, and tooth diseases. Obese children are also at risk of more serious diseases such as early onset of diabetes, high blood pressure and bone and joint problems.

And emotionally, they tend to suffer from low self-esteem and depression as a result of a negative body image. Further, they also encounter social stumbling blocks such as stigma, negative stereotyping, discrimination and social marginalization from both their peers and the society.

How to stop fattitude?

During the AFIC symposium, the experts identified two main factors contributing to childhood obesity:

1. Energy In

  • More energy dense foods
  • More use of restaurants and fast food outlets
  • More frequent and widespread food purchasing opportunities

2. Energy Expenditure

  • An increased usage of motorised transport
  • A fall in opportunities for recreational physical activity
  • Increased sedentary recreation such as watching TV and Internet surfing

What goes in must come out

How do you slim your kids down, then, if they’re on the heavy side?
The only true way for anyone, not just children, to lose weight is to ensure that calories consumed are less than the calories expended. So apart from exercising regularly, nutritional diligence helps.

Tips for healthier eating

The Health Promotion Board has a set of dietary guidelines for children and adolescents.
The nine dietary guidelines are:

  1. Aim for variety and balance.
  2. Establish sensible eating habits and encourage physical activity.
  3. Limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake for children aged two years and older.
  4. Encourage eating fruit and vegetables daily.
  5. Encourage eating of wholegrain foods.
  6. Encourage eating of calcium-rich foods daily.
  7. Choose foods low in salt.
  8. Limit the intake of beverages and foods with added sugars.
  9. Encourage and support exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

In addition, you can also pick up the booklet “Birth to Eighteen Years – Dietary Tips for Your Child’s Wellbeing” at all polyclinics, general practitioner / family physician clinics, paediatric clinics, and public hospitals island-wide, as well as at the Health Information Centre (or HIC) at HPB.

It is also available on the HPB website at www.hpb.gov.sg

Start with less sugar

If your child loves sweet treats, you should look for alternatives that contained reduced sugar, or those which use natural fruit juices as natural sweeteners. Also look for the Healthier Choice label from HPB, as this indicates that the snack or drink has been evaluated for its nutritional value – and passed. LWB

Shape up with less sugar | Raising a bilingual child | Born to perform! | The breakfasts of champions | Taming Tiny Terrors!

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