The Fight Against Obesity

Thursday, 15.03.2018


Singaporean kids are starting to catch up to their American counterparts… in weight, that is. Find out how we can combat this rising tide of childhood obesity.

We all love to eat, and this is Singapore after all – a culture where we’re living to eat, not eating to live. The amount of different cuisines that’re available here in Singapore is staggering, and we’re definitely spoilt for choice.

However, our kids will do as we do, and they’ll pick up some bad eating habits if we don’t watch ourselves – they probably won’t listen to us if we tell them to eat less junk food or snacks when we’re eating just as much, or even more than them all the time!

Obesity is actually a chronic condition defined by an excess amount of body fat – fat is actually useful to us as it helps us store energy, insulates us from the cold, and provides us shock absorption.

According to the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) statistics, the percentage of obesity for Primary 1 students is around 10%, and the percentage for Primary 5 students is around 15% (figures are combined for boys and girls).

Obesity is, quite literally, something that grows with your kid. The older they get, the easier it is for them to maintain and increase their weight, as the eating and lifestyle habits that they’ve built up over the years have slowly but firmly taken root in them.

What Are The Risks Of Obesity?

Kids who are suffering from obesity are a lot more likely to be obese when they reach adulthood – an obese child at 2 years old has a 50% chance to bring that obesity into adulthood, and an obese teenager has a whopping 70% chance!

There’s a lot wrong with being obese because of the increased health risks as they get older. If a person is obese, they’re at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, high cholesterol, gallstones, diabetes, certain cancers, osteoarthritis, gout, sleep apnea, and a lot more!

Aside from the physical risks, kids can also suffer from bullying. According to data from a global study conducted by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) in 2015, students in Singapore get bullied more than their peers in 50 other countries. Students in Latvia and New Zealand are the only ones who experience more bullying than us.

The study had 6 categories of bullying: being made fun of, left out or isolated from activities, being hit or pushed around, threatened, having rumours spread about them, and having their items and property taken from them.

What Are The Causes Of Obesity?


We’ve taken a look at the risks of obesity, so now let’s look at some things that can cause it:

  1. Genetics – There’s a higher chance for your kids to develop obesity if you or your spouse are obese. It can also affect a person’s fat-regulating hormones; if their body isn’t able to recognise the amount of body fat stores, their brains will not actually be able to control how much they’ll be eating.
  2. Overeating – It’s easy to realise that overeating leads to weight gain, but it’s difficult to control the impulses that lead to it! Food that’s high in fat or sugar (fast food, sweets, carbonated drinks… I’m looking at you) is definitely yummy, but they’re big contributors to weight gain.
  3. Eating Frequency – Research shows that people eating smaller meals four to five times a day actually has lower cholesterol levels and lower or more stable blood sugar levels than people who eat two to three large meals a day. A reason for this is that small, frequent meals produces stable insulin levels, and large meals cause large spikes of insulin levels.
  4. Physical Activity – It’s common sense that a more physically inactive lifestyle will definitely cause weight gain. Therefore, it’s important that our kids get enough exercise or physical activity throughout the day.
  5. Psychological – As adults, we tend to eat a lot more whenever we’re stressed, bored, sad, or angry; that applies to kids as well. It’s just an emotional response to our surroundings, quite like when we’re being nagged or pressured by our relatives during CNY gathering – we’ll unconsciously reach for that container of mini prawn rolls or bak kwa!

So What Can Be Done To Fight Obesity?

The best way to fight against it is to make a lifestyle change, to inculcate healthy habits in them from young. From the list above about causes of obesity, we can see that we’ve no control over genetics and very little control over psychological effects, but we CAN control the amount and frequency of food eaten, as well as the amount of exercise.

Food And NutritionFood diet

If you want to help your kid stay healthy, one of the best ways is to guide them towards a healthier diet. Do you remember that good looking photographer, Chuando Tan? He’s 51 years old, looks like he’s in his 30s, and he said that the secret to his youthful looks and toned body is 70% diet and 30% exercise!

Like I’ve said before, fatty food is yummy, but it’s important to replace those unhealthy fats with ones that are good for our bodies – ones like mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Those types of fats can be found in whole-grain foods and a variety of vegetables and fruits.

Cutting out food and drinks that are high in sugar content will also help to keep their weight down. So limit the amount of soft drinks they consume, and check the sugar content of fruit juices as certain juices actually contain more sugar than soft drinks.

Establishing Limits

When you’re picking out veggies and fruits, remember that the brightly coloured ones usually contain a lot more valuable nutrients. Prime examples are carrots and pumpkins – their orange colour is because of the beta-carotene within them. Beta-carotene helps make our immune system strong, keeps our eyes healthy, and strengthens our bones.

Equally important to what our kids eat is how much they’re eating. We can limit the amount of food we’re serving them by using a smaller plate – it will create an illusion of more food in proportion to the size of the plate. We tend to overeat because we’ll try to finish whatever is on our plates, especially if it’s something that we like.

Good Eating Habits

Try to create another good eating habit: eating together as a family as much as possible. You’ll be able to catch up with your kids’ day and they can find out more about yours. Research has shown that kids who take part in regular meals are more likely to eat fruits and veggies, and less likely to snack on unhealthy foods.

You’ll also have to be a role model in eating for your kids, as they’ll pick up habits from you! So if you’re going to snack, make sure it’s something healthy and you’re not snacking that frequently. One way to do it is to actually stock up on healthy snacks at home, such as low-fat yogurt, peanut butter, and whole-grain crackers.

The more your kids see you eating fruits, veggies, and healthier snacks, the more likely they’ll be following in your footsteps.

However, you can’t fully cut out unhealthy snacks! Chips, cookies, and ice cream may not be good for your body in large amounts, but they’re definitely good as comfort food (in moderation). Make those snacks something of a once in a while treat for yourself and your kids.                                                       

Exercise And Physical Activity

Many parents are saying that the cause of their kids leading more sedentary and lazy lifestyles is because of the internet and video games, but blaming it just on entertainment technology isn’t the way to go. While they’re still young, you could limit their amount of screen-time per day and instead introduce them to fun daily activities that promote physical fitness!

Kids should get around 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every day in order to burn off any excess calories and stay healthy. Asking our kids to exercise isn’t the easiest of things, especially if it’s not considered ‘fun’ to them, so it’s important to take the younger ones out to the playground and let them run amok there every day.

For older children, you can also join them in physical activities like riding a bicycle, hiking, and swimming – by making this a family activity, you’ll be setting the foundations for healthy habits to be built up as they grow older, and doing this will also allow you to bond with them!

Children who are already obese might be unenthusiastic about exercising, mainly because they’re worried about letting you down and aren’t used to physical activities. Start it out slow, do easier activities and exercises and try to build their confidence. Encourage them, don’t scold them – exercising may be difficult for them at first and if you’re being extremely negative about it, they may be put off from exercising.



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