Protecting children from obesity | Sunday Observer

Protecting children from obesity

5 September, 2021

Are you aware of childhood obesity? Childhood obesity has become a worldwide pandemic throughout the years. Childhood overweight and obesity are rapidly increasing in our country Sri Lanka as well.

A study in Sri Lanka has found that obesity prevalence is 10.3 percent and overweight prevalence is 11.3 percent among urban Sri Lankan children between five–18years old.

Childhood obesity is a cause of many diseases such as premature deaths, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint pains, breathing problems, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), cardiovascular disease, stroke, hyperlipidemia, and even hypertension.

Therefore, childhood obesity must not be taken lightly. Our children are at serious risks because of physical inactivity. Especially, during the current difficult period, where children have to stay at home for around almost two years without school.

Children engage in more screen time such as video games, movies, and even online learning through smart phones and computers and in less physical activity. That may lead to childhood obesity, which exposes our younger generation to many adverse health issues both physical and psychological.

Who can prevent childhood obesity and whose responsibility is to prevent children from obesity? There are many parties directly and indirectly responsible, including authorities, media, and companies.

However, the role of parents in the prevention of childhood obesity cannot be undermined. Parents are the more powerful agents to influence the child’s behaviors and manage childhood obesity. Hence, through this article I am going to discuss the causes of obesity and what can we do as parents to protect our children from obesity.


What causes childhood obesity? Both biological factors such as genetic and hormonal factors of parents as well as behavioural factors such as too little physical activity, too many calories consumed through foods are reasons behind obesity.

For example, if parents are overweight the chances of the child becoming overweight is high. And, if a mother expecting a baby has gestational diabetes mellitus, the baby is at more risk of obesity because of increased fat deposition from mother to baby.

However, the most unfortunate circumstance is leading children towards obesity due to the factors that are more controllable by parents, which I am putting more emphasis on in this article. Such a main reason is the lack of awareness and knowledge among parents about healthy diet and healthy life patterns. So, what can we do at home to prevent our children from obesity?

Home-based physical activities

Children today are more inclined to sedentary behaviour and have more screening time. Covid-19 pandemic has forced the changes in lifestyles of people and encouraged children more towards sedentary behaviour patterns compared to before the pandemic days.

During the lockdowns, children do not have access to playgrounds, play areas, or gyms. Obese and overweight children have more risk during this period. So, is it impossible to engage in physical activities during this time?

My answer is no, not at all. You can engage your selves and your children in home-based physical activities. Have you tried small physical activities at home such as hopping, skipping, jumping, single-leg stance and ball skills, crab walk, bear walk? They do look simple but give your children enough physical activity to maintain their health. You can always invent home-based physical activities. When inventing home-based physical activities parents can play a vital role.

Physical activities are any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles and activity requires energy expenditure. It includes not only exercises but also other activities that involve bodily movement, which can be incorporated into play, work, active transportation, house chores, and recreational activities.

According to Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, children below the age of one should engage in play sessions for 5-15 minutes a day, and at least three hours a day for 1-5 years and children should engage in high-impact activities. The children between the age groups of 5-12 years and 13 – 17 years are supposed to be active at least 60 minutes per day for at least three days per week. Family is the closest unit to the child, which significantly influences their physical and mental development. According to researchers, home-based intervention programs are the most effective strategy to manage a child’s health behaviors related to obesity. The home-based approaches were found to be more effective in BMI reduction among obese children.

Such home-based intervention programs significantly influence reducing blood pressure, improving the quality of life and eating behaviors as well as helping to reduce screen time and unhealthy consumption patterns among obese or overweight children. Therefore, engaging children in home-based physical activities are highly recommended by the experts.

So what are these home-based physical activities? Such includes engaging with housework, domestic chores, gardening, and also exercise with guidance from YouTube (aerobics / Zumba).

Moreover, children can be encouraged to playing with family members, jogging or running around the house, skipping with a rope, do paintings, do Yoga, inventing small family games, dancing, and even cooking. You can design family games to choose a winner so that children will be more enthusiastic and motivated to engage with these activities.

For example, passing the ball around in a circle without dropping it and walking up and down on a staircase or skipping for 10 minutes. ‘You are free to design the games and set the rules and time frame.

Try to introduce a variety of activities and change the activities weekly to keep children’s interest in participating in them. And keep in mind that assuring the safety of children is the key while playing these games.

If you are a person with some experience in sports or exercise, you can also introduce some exercises like jumping jacks, squats, push-ups, planks, lifting small weights with water-filled bottles or sand-filled bottles. However, to introduce those types of exercises to children, the parent needs to have proper knowledge of the correct movement to prevent injuries. Otherwise, it is advised not to try such exercises.

Alternatively, you can find yoga and exercise programs on the internet, which are specifically designed for kids. Meantime, physical activities alone will not be enough to keep your children healthy. Healthy eating is also very important.

Healthy eating

Are you concerned about healthy dietary habits? We all need food to provides nutrients to our body, which will provide us energy for activity, growth, and repair of the body, and to the proper functioning of the body as well as to strengthen our immune system.

However, the calorie need for a person differs on weight, height, age, gender, and level of physical activity. After your body used the number of calories that need to generate the energy, the rest are stored as fat. Hence consumption of excessive calories that your body can burn is the main cause of being overweight or obese.

It is important to identify such high-calorie products and avoiding and reducing the consumption of such products.

As parents, you have the responsibility to adapt to a healthy dietary pattern in your household. You should discourage children from consuming fast food, junk foods, excessive amounts of sugary sweets, and sweetened drinks containing huge amounts of sugar. Instead, encourage to consume more vegetables, fruits, whole grain products, lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein.


Additionally, little changes to some most commonly seen household habits will be very useful to prevent our children from being overweight leading to obesity. For example, avoid consuming meals while watching TV. Turn off the TV, computer, smart phones during meals. This may even improve family ties.

Moreover, consider limiting the diner outs and eating from outsides, stopping the habit of consuming oily snacks in between meals or during tea-time. Meantime, children need to have proper and adequate sleep. Promote sleeping habits and train children to go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.

Remove smart devices before bedtime. You can even consider training them to engage with some religious activities such as mindfulness exercise or praying before sleep to make bedtime more calm and relaxed.

Have you ever thought about the positive change you can make for the physical and psychological, health of your children through little changes to your lifestyle? If not, it’s high time to give it a serious thought. Let’s start engaging our children in home-based physical activities today. Introduce a healthy lifestyle to your family and help to prevent and control childhood obesity.

The writer holds a BSc (Hons) in Sports Science and Management from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.