Obesity, a prevalent issue in today’s society, casts a looming shadow over the lives of countless children. Its impact extends far beyond the confines of physical appearance, delving deep into their emotional well-being and overall health. As the numbers on the scale climb, so does the burden of self-consciousness and shyness that plagues these young souls. Yet, the consequences of childhood obesity reach further, stealthily stunting their natural height growth and imposing long-lasting health implications. In this exploration, we delve into the multifaceted problem of childhood obesity, unraveling the intricate web of challenges it poses for our youngest generation.
Warning about obesity in children
Obesity is a condition characterized by exceeding the standard weight for height, resulting in an excessive accumulation of fat that impairs cell activity and adversely affects health.
During times of economic stability, parents have better resources to provide proper nutrition for their children. However, a lack of knowledge about nutritional balance and unscientific food choices have led parents to make mistakes when it comes to caring for their children’s diet, causing them to face obesity and numerous associated health consequences.
Causes of obesity
Children become obese due to the following reasons:
Heredity: When one or both parents are obese, the child is at a higher risk of being overweight or obese, even if their diet and exercise routines are normal.
Unhealthy diet: An unscientific diet is the main cause of obesity. Many Vietnamese children nowadays have a preference for fast foods such as hamburgers, French fries, pizza, fried sausages, milk tea, and carbonated soft drinks. These foods are high in fat and sugar content, leading to weight gain. Some parents also excessively supplement their children’s diet with milk, which contains high levels of protein and fat that contribute to weight gain. While milk is beneficial for health, it should be consumed in moderation to avoid negative effects on weight and health.
Lack of physical activity: Vietnam is among the countries with the lowest levels of physical activity, with only about 15.3% of people exercising for more than thirty minutes a day, according to statistics from The Lancet medical journal. Maintaining a diet rich in protein, sugar, and fat without engaging in regular exercise or sports results in an energy intake that exceeds energy expenditure. The excess energy is stored as fat, leading to overweight and obesity. Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle makes the body sluggish, reduces physical strength, and slows down reflexes, which is detrimental to both health and the process of height growth.
Unhealthy habits: Chronic lack of sleep stimulates the production of the hormone ghrelin, which increases appetite and leads to more frequent and larger food consumption. Encouraging children to have regular and sufficient sleep is crucial for their overall health and helps prevent obesity. Furthermore, during puberty, some children may be influenced by negative peer groups, leading them to engage in unhealthy activities such as alcohol and coffee consumption. These activities can contribute to significant weight gain due to the high calorie content in alcoholic beverages, beer, and coffee. These drinks stimulate the digestive system, increase food intake, delay the feeling of fullness, and combined with high-fat content, they further contribute to weight gain.
Obese children often find it difficult to grow to their maximum height
Obesity not only has aesthetic implications but also has detrimental effects on health and the natural process of height growth in children. While overweight and obese children may appear taller than their peers initially, they often experience slower height growth during puberty, leading to shorter stature in adulthood. There is substantial evidence linking obesity to short stature, and some key factors supporting this association are:
Inactivity among obese children: Due to their larger body mass, obese children often experience fatigue quickly during physical activity. The musculoskeletal system also undergoes greater stress during exercise, increasing the risk of muscle injuries. Consequently, individuals with obesity tend to be inactive and passive. Coupled with a high-calorie diet that exceeds energy expenditure, their obesity becomes more severe. Physical movement plays a significant role, accounting for up to 20% of the height development process. By being sedentary, a child misses out on one-fifth of their growth potential.
Consumption of high-fat and high-protein foods: Fat and protein are essential nutrients for the body. However, if one primarily focuses on consuming foods rich in these two groups while neglecting vitamins and minerals, maximum height potential cannot be achieved. Calcium, which is crucial for bone structure, accounts for a significant proportion. Eating a diet that is unbalanced and predominantly high in fat and protein, while lacking sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals, can hinder the process of new bone formation, thereby impeding height growth. Obese individuals often have a tendency to consume protein-rich and fatty foods, opting for fried and low vegetable intake. This unbalanced diet contributes to weight gain while simultaneously obstructing height growth.
Early puberty resulting from obesity: Puberty in children is triggered when the body produces an adequate amount of the hormone leptin, which regulates appetite and reproductive function and is secreted by fat cells. Thus, excessive accumulation of fat leads to increased leptin production due to the greater number of fat cells, ultimately causing early puberty. This explains why obese children often experience precocious puberty. However, early puberty is considered one of the factors limiting height potential. Children with early puberty have a shorter time frame for height growth compared to those who undergo puberty at the normal age, resulting in shorter stature in adulthood when compared to their peers.
Solutions to grow taller for obese children
Obese children, in addition to focusing on weight control within an appropriate range, also need to implement strategies to promote healthy growth and height to avoid short stature in adulthood.
Avoid fasting and skipping meals: Many children, especially girls, tend to fast or continuously skip meals in an attempt to lose weight. However, this practice has negative effects on health and the natural process of height development. Intermittent fasting deprives the body of energy, weakens cells, and hampers the body’s ability to function and grow. Insufficient nutrition, particularly the essential nutrients for bone health such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc, hinders height growth. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize regular and balanced meals, avoiding skipping meals, and selecting foods rich in vitamins and minerals while limiting fat and sugar intake. Seeking guidance from a nutritionist is highly recommended.
Engage in daily physical activity: Regular physical exercise contributes to bone mineralization, joint flexibility, energy expenditure, and fat reduction, promoting both good overall health and height development. Aim for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour of physical activity per day, such as swimming, jogging, skipping rope, volleyball, basketball, or yoga.
Establish proper sleep habits: Sleep and the living environment play a role in about 25% of height growth. Going to bed early and getting sufficient sleep support the pituitary gland in producing growth hormones, facilitating height increase. Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night and consider taking short 15-20 minute naps. Ensure the bedroom is spacious, well-ventilated, and clean to promote deep and restful sleep.
Avoid stimulants and carbonated drinks: Stimulants and carbonated drinks not only impede height growth but also worsen obesity. It is essential to eliminate these products from the diet. Instead, opt for filtered water, smoothies, and fresh fruit juices to nourish the body, maintain a healthy physique, and support the growth process.
Weight can be managed through a healthy diet, exercise, and appropriate lifestyle choices. However, the opportunity for height growth is limited to the first approximately 20 years of life. Therefore, if a child is obese, parents should strike a balance between weight control and height increase, ensuring that weight concerns do not hinder the natural growth process.