Childhood obesity: is it the parents fault?

Obesity

In this current climate, we see a lot of promotions about health and fitness and it always feels like it’s centred towards adults. Like the amazing five day diets, astonishing weight loss regimens and the latest technological advanced gadgets are constantly advertised in our day to day life. It feels like most of us have heard it all over the years. Many of us may have participated in these regimes in some way or another. So I ask myself why should there be an epidemic over childhood obesity? Are kids being left out?

Childhood obesity has been a serious concern for a while. The World Health Organisation has classed it as the most serious public health challenge for the 21st century. According to Public Health England, recent figures show 28.2% of children ages 2-5 were classed as either overweight or obese. Honestly how does this happen? How did we as a generation let’s this happen?

To and from work, I see many school children snacking on: sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks and the forever favourite ‘chicken and chips’. I am sure most of you see these kids too, and may even wonder what do they eat at home. Therefore it is easy to assume this cannot be everyday behaviour, perhaps its just a treat. However I admit everyday in my job as a GP, I do see overweight children coming through the doors. Then all sorts of questions come to mind, can I bring this up as a topic of conversation to the parents or should I focus on faults of society. Is there someone to blame?

In my opinion, childhood obesity is multi-factorial problem mostly grouped together into three main categories, genetic, medically related and environmental. There are genetic and medical conditions that can play a part in the natural weight of a child. But considering the vast amount of children, this is still relatively a very small proportion as compared to the environmental impacts. Examples of these include social media and advertising which children are continually exposed to. Evidently this can put pressure on parents in their household and push parents to succumb to this pressure for the sake of making their child happy.

I could talk about health education, food prices, Jamie Oliver’s attempt to improve UK school dinners and access to healthy food initiatives but for me the underlying common denominator are the parents. Parents are wholeheartedly at the centre of this obesity problem and shockingly it appears that they are overlooked as the solution.

A child will usually eat whatever is placed in front of them. From infancy to their upbringing, kids learn the values of what to eat, how to eat and what they should eat from their parents. Generally it is the parents or guardians that give pocket money to their children. They also should be aware what their children are spending the money on. With this pocket money, if a child feels having “chicken and chips” daily is acceptable then I really cannot blame the child but would focus entirely on the parents. Personally I feel I cannot assign blame to a chicken shop owner, or the health secretary and I certainly cannot blame McDonald’s. The only person(s) who have the power in their hands to help with this problem is the parents. It begins with them and ends with them.

Childhood obesity is already evident in schools and unfortunately in our society. Some children appear to have a problem with PE (physical education) and some have found loopholes of not going to PE. As a result we have kids going through their formative years without any interest in physical activity as part of their school curriculum. This lack of interest is further perpetuated at home with the ever reliable games console as comfort. The reality is schools can only do so much to help the problem and ownership is again on parents and guardians.

I understand the argument we should let children be children and be who they are, but this can only work to a limit. Guidance is a requirement to our children so harm will not befall them. Just as we teach them to look both ways before crossing the road, we should also guide them on a healthy attitude to food and exercise. This likely starts from infancy without them even realising that process is happening.

With common disorders like diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension linked to unhealthy lifestyle, it’s unforgivable to not do what we can to reduce the likelihood for our kids. These conditions have long term implications that really can affect a persons’ quality of life. Even common childhood conditions like asthma are worsened further by poor lifestyles. By supporting our kids physically and mentally through a healthy outlook towards exercise and food we undoubtedly create a better future for them. However a child is not born with that outlook it is learned and has to be nurtured.

With the UK health service already under pressure, there needs to be ownership on patients to take control of their illnesses and partake in ways to reduce further morbidity. Hospitals and community professionals can strive to maintain levels of health but it will have no impact without the collective collaboration with the individuals involved. We cannot always look at other people to correct it and certainly parents cannot look at others to correct what they put on the plate for their kids.

The WAFFL team all share the common approach and bigger picture towards thinking about health and fitness. It ultimately should not be a thought but a natural way of looking at food and exercise. Presently at the point we are all at, work needs to be placed to create “the thought”  before that change can happen. The same must be done for our children because parents if you don’t look after them, then who will.

Dr Anthony Egboh, WAFFL Doctor
MBBS, BSc, AISCM, MRCGP