WHILE some children may just be chubby or haven't yet lost the baby fat, others are dealing with a more chronic condition that has health officials concerned.
Two years ago the Government sounded the sirens, reporting that the prevalence of obesity among Jamaican children was on the increase, partly because physical education is not compulsory throughout the school system.
Then, it was reported that more than 11 per cent of children 10 to 15 years old, and 35 per cent of teenagers between 15 to 18 years, were classified as overweight or obese.
Dr Tamu Davidson, director, chronic diseases and injuries prevention at the Ministry of Health, told the Observer then that some physical activity should take place in educational institutions up to the tertiary level, as part of efforts to develop a wellness culture and fight chronic non-communicable diseases including respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, which are responsible for 60 per cent of the country's deaths.
Nutritionist Donovan Grant said the age of technology may be a factor.
"Children are hardly leaving the house to go outside and play dandy shandy, marbles or even to play which is a natural form of exercise. All they want to do is stay at home watch TV and use the Internet," Grant said.
Grant added that there are situations where both parents are working and can't afford a housekeeper to cook proper meals so children are unsupervised and end up eating a lot of fast food sand snacks and end up packing on weight.
Grant said parents should get worried if the child seems to have an abnormal weight for his or her age and should ensure that they visit a doctor and do a medical.
Grant cautioned that child obesity can lead to other conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and shortness of breath especially if the bulk of weight is in the gut region.
Preventing childhood obesity is by no means a walk in the park, and for parents it will mean instilling healthy lifestyle practices in children from a very early age.
Though genetic and hormone disorders can make a child prone to obesity, preventing the condition will require a set of proactive measures by parents. Here are a few:
1. Schedule doctor's visits
Take your child to the doctor for check-ups at least once a year. The doctor will measure your child's height and weight and calculate his or her body mass index (BMI). An increase in your child's BMI or in his or her percentile rank over one year is a possible sign that your child is at risk of becoming overweight.
2. Set a good example
Make sure you eat healthy foods and exercise regularly to maintain your weight. Then, invite your child to join you. Encourage your child to stay active. Children and teens should participate in at least one hour of moderate intensity physical activities throughout the week and every day if possible. Examples of moderate-intensity physical activities include brisk walking, playing tag, jumping rope, playing soccer, swimming and dancing.
3. Encourage healthy eating habits
Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole-grain products in your child's regular diet. Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils and beans for protein. Serve reasonably sized portions and encourage your family to drink lots of water. Limit sweetened beverages, sugar, sodium and saturated fat, and as parents, be sure you do not use food as incentives or rewards.
4. Emphasise the positives
Speak to your children about the benefits of exercise apart from helping to manage weight. Find fun ways to tell them that it makes the heart, lungs and other muscles stronger.
5. Be patient
Do not make demeaning comments to children about their weight. Many overweight children grow into their extra pounds as they get taller. Focusing too much on your child's eating habits and weight can easily backfire, leading a child to overeat even more or possibly making him or her more prone to developing an eating disorder.
6. Be responsible about your own weight
Lead by example. Obesity often occurs in several family members. If you're overweight, starting a weight loss journey will encourage your child to follow suit. Don't expect your child to do something you are unwilling to do for yourself.
— Kimberley Hibbert