We are getting fatter, and so are our children. Parents play a significant role in this, but often face a blind spot to the detriment of their child’s health and healthy ageing. Addressing that blind spot can prevent kids from becoming overweight unhealthy adults later on.
We are getting fatter, and so are our children. Half of the adult Dutch population is overweight. The number of obese people, seriously overweight people with an increased risk of chronic diseases, has tripled in recent years. 13% of Dutch children between the ages of 4 and 17 are overweight, of which 2% are obese.
The number of overweight children is expected to increase in the coming years and will also occur at an increasingly younger age. Parents play a significant role in this, but often face a blind spot to the detriment of their child’s health and healthy ageing. Addressing that blind spot can prevent kids from becoming overweight unhealthy adults later on.
Fat children become fat adults
An unhealthy lifestyle is the main cause of overweight and obese children. hey eat unhealthily and do not exercise enough. Only 2% of overweight children have an underlying medical condition that explains their weight.
Children with an unhealthy lifestyle have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint problems and cardiovascular disorders. Moreover, being overweight can lead to psychosocial problems such as being bullied, being unable to keep up with the group, a negative self-image, problems at school and feelings of depression.
The longer an unhealthy lifestyle has existed, the more difficult it is to change it. Improving unhealthy habits that have been ingrained for years is very difficult. Biologically, physiologically and hormonally disrupted body processes as a result of an unhealthy lifestyle complicate this process. For example, it is very difficult to lose weight at an older age and to maintain a healthy weight, when you were too fat as a child, because the fat cells that develop at a young age never disappear. The assumption that a child can ‘outgrow’ the excess amount of bodyweight, as is sometimes said, is therefore not correct.
Fat children often become fat adults who suffer from many chronic health problems and therefore have an increased risk of premature death: Healthy aging, starts from birth.
Parents’ blind spot
Healthy Aging starts from birth, or better yet, even before that (read our previous article). What you eat as a pregnant woman and how healthy you live affects the health and genes of your unborn child.
From birth, parents lay the foundation for their child’s lifestyle. After all, they are generally responsible for the food supply at home. Especially with young children they determine what and how much is eaten and what and how much exercise is done. Moreover, they will set an example when it comes to a healthy lifestyle: The parents set the standard for the child (read our article on how parents who want to lose weight but keep buying sweets for their children, can actually become a perfect role model for their children).
Although peers play a greater role in puberty and unhealthy habits can emerge, adolescents who have a healthy lifestyle from an early age and are encouraged to do so by their parents, are also more likely to maintain this at a later age.
While most parents want the best for their child and want their child to grow up to be a healthy happy adult, many parents also face a blind spot. As a result, the significant positive impact parents can potentially have on the child’s lifestyle, cannot stand out well enough. This blind spot has 3 aspects:
1. More than half of (Dutch) parents do not know why their children are overweight
These parents lack the knowledge about possible causes of overweight, about healthy eating and about what exactly is a healthy lifestyle and how they can stimulate this in their child.
2. Half of the (Dutch) parents do not recognize their child’s overweight
Parents do not see their own child as too fat. They think that it is not too bad or that the child has a healthy weight.
3. Over 87% of (Dutch) parents with an overweight child are not concerned about the weight of the child
They don’t know/ don’t recognize that excess bodyweight in children has short and long-term health risks, or they assume that the child “will out-grow it”.
Shared responsibility of healthy ageing
Tackling the blind spot of parents can yield enormous health gains, now and in the future. However, it is too simplistic to say that parents are to blame for their child being overweight, or that merely tackling the blind spot can prevent children from getting overweight and growing up into unhealthy adults.
After all, overweight and obesity in children and adults is determined by a multitude of factors. For example, the environment in which we live influences our behavior: Are there sports facilities nearby or not? Is the neighborhood safe enough to play outside? Are there many fast food restaurants in the area?
Moreover, social norms regarding nutrition and weight have changed in recent years: We now find it quite normal to be able to eat what we want, where we want, when we want. And what used to be a large portion of fries, is now a small one. Furthermore, we seemed to find it quite normal that there are fat children.
Healthy aging is a shared responsibility. At least in a collaboration between parents and professionals involved in the family, such as the health clinic, the school, the GP and the sports club. These professionals can advise and coach parents in gaining and applying knowledge about a healthy lifestyle and weight, and about the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle in the short and long term. And parents can pass this knowledge and experience on to their child, so that the child can age into a healthy adult who can take responsibility for his/her own lifestyle.
This article is based on information from: Nederlands Centrum Jeugdgezondheid; www.volksgezondheidenzorg.info; Sarafino et al. ,2014).
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