Childhood obesity is one of the major health threats of the 21st century. “The prevalence has increased at an alarming rate. Globally, in 2016 the number of overweight children under the age of five, is estimated to be over 41 million” (World Health Organisation (WHO), 2018). According to The Strait Times (2018), one in ten of the five year-old is obese in Singapore. “Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that occurs when a children is above normal weight for his age and height” (International Journal of Obesity, 1999). Most childhood obesity are caused by poor eating habits, environment influences and lack of exercising which will in turn cause a lot of health issues.
The effects of obesity in children is vital. Obese children are at the higher risk of developing a range of health problems in the immediate, short and long term (Yeung and Hills, 2007). Immediate health problems of obese children may experience include social isolation and potential psychological dysfunction (Must and Strauss, 1999). Young and obese children have also been described by their peers as ugly, stupid, dishonest and lazy (Yeung & Hills, 2007) and they may experience teasing and isolation as a result (Stunkard and Burt, 1967). Such children may increase the chances of developing one or more additional diseases or disorders than their peers. For example, children who are obese are at greater risk of asthma, and when they have it they have been shown to use more than one medication (Belamarich et al., 2000), wheeze more, experience more sudden visits to hospital (Belamarich et al., 2000) and missing more school days than their asthmatic peers who are of normal size (Luder, Melnik and DiMaio, 1998).
In the short term, obese children have a significantly higher chances in developing certain gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, endocrine and orthopaedic problems than their lean peers which it may be worsen in the long term. According to Goran (2001), obese girls are more likely to develop reproductive system abnormalities, such as early one set of puberty.
Data from the longitudinal Bogalusa Heart study suggest that, in the long run, cardiovascular disease risk factor prevalence increase greatly overtime in obese children (Goran, 2001). In fact, seven in ten children who are obese at age seven will remain obese all the way to their adult years, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) found in its latest study on obesity (The Strait time, 2018).
Childhood obesity had brought about some many negative impacts on one child health, however there are measures that educators and parents are able to educate their young ones in regards to managing their weights. There are three main causes to childhood obesity. To begin with, childhood obesity is cause by poor eating habits. Poor eating habits, include inadequate intake of vegetables, fruit, and milk, and eating too many high-calorie snacks. Additionally, it is cause by environmental influences. Children spend most of their time at home and it is where they have most of their meals. Eating is a social behaviour and observing the eating behaviours of others like their parents influences the child preferences and behaviour (Waters, 2010). For example, if parents have poor eating habits, children are most likely developed poor eating habits. Lastly, childhood obesity is caused by lack of exercising. “Physical activity comprises all mosses do movements caused by muscle activity resulting in increase energy expenditure” (Ahima, 2014). However in recent years there is a “trend towards decreased physical activity levels due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of recreation time, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization” (World Health Organization (WHO), 2018). After knowing the causes to childhood obesity, how then can parents and early childhood educator educates their young ones to manage their weight so to prevent childhood obesity?
Firstly, teachers can educate preschoolers through building health in curriculum. Teachers can read stories books on obesity, healthy eating habits and what kind of food give them the right vitamins to grow well. Preschoolers enjoy story telling and through storytellings, they are able to “link not only between the world of classroom and home but also between the classroom and beyond” (Paula Stoyle, British Council, Jordan, 2018). This help the preschoolers to link what they had learn through the storytelling and apply it in their daily life. Teachers can also organise field trips to the super markets or health promotion board in the mid of going through the curriculum on the healthy eating habits. By bringing them out of the classroom and into the world context, it gives the preschoolers a chance to apply what they had learnt in class to their daily life. Teaches can also seize the opportunities and educate the children more on obesity and pointing out unhealthy snacks they should avoid during their trips to supermarket. During their visit to health promotion board health zone, the children will also be given a chance to enhance their learnings (Kids little campus, 2017). Professor Leslie Cunningham-Sabo says that integrating nutrition education into the preschool it will educate children to eat healthy food at a young age, which will support them in developing healthy eating patterns (Philadelphia,2001). Therefore, it is important to integrate healthy eating habits into the preschool curriculum as habits need to be cultivated from a young age.
Secondly, schools can organise cookery lessons for both parents and children. Even though healthy meals are being provided in preschool, it will not be useful if it does not continues back home since children have most of their meals at home. Many parents in today context do not have any knowledge and experience in cooking healthy meals for the child (McCaskey, 2013). By organising cookery lessons for parents, it gives them the opportunities to learn interesting ways to prepare healthy meals for the family, expanding their knowledge on healthy food and letting them to be more confidence in their cooking which it will decrease the like-hood of preschoolers in taking unhealthy food. Hence, lowering the rates of obesity. Involving preschoolers in the mid of the cookery lessons will enhance the child’s interest on what is cook. Preschoolers shows more interest in things which they are able to contribute. When parents get their kids to help them while cooking, it “get them interested in trying health foods that usually turn their noses up at” (Magee, 2008). Hence, preschoolers will be more interested
Thirdly, teachers, parents and peers can educate children by role modelling healthy eating practises. According to ecological theory, all environment affects a child development. Parents, teachers and peers are in the immediate setting of the child and teachers need to work together with the parents so that they can influence the child eating habits (Levine ; Munsch, 2018). According to social cognitive theory, “individuals learn by observing others and imitating their behaviour” (Levine ; Munsch, 2018). For example, parents can eat according to the healthy plate, choosing brown rice instead of white rice and choosing plain water instead of sweet drinks. Teachers can eat together with the children during meal time and finish up all the vegetables and fruits. This encourages the child to finish his has well as he saw his teacher eating it. Teachers can also put picky eaters together with health ambassadors of the class so that the health ambassadors is able to encourage and eat together with the child Hence, it emphasis the importance for parents, teachers and peers to role model to the child as they will pick up the habits they see.
Lastly, parents can reduce the child screening time and encourage preschoolers to be more active. A study has shown that “Children aged 2–14 spend an average of 2.4 hour a day in front of a TV screen or a computer monitor”, children are now longer interested in outdoor activities (Rosiek, Maciejewska, Leksowski, Aleksandra ; Leksowski, 2015). Although this study is conducted in Poland, however, it is still relatable to Singapore context due to urbanisation and parenting style. Young children spent a lot of time in front of the screen which does not involve physical movement hence no energy loss which result in the increase number of children having childhood obesity. Parents need to encourage their child to move more often so that they can burn additional fats away. Parents can bring their children to have a walk in the park after meal times or during the weekends, parents can bring their child to participate in Health Hub weekly event at the selected Parks near their house (Health Hub, 2018).
Although many may argues that physical education is the way to educate preschoolers to manage their weights, as many studies has shown that increasing physical activities prevent prevent obesity. However it is not the only ways as there are many other ways too. It is important to educate young ones on managing their weight as ” early childhood period holds promise as a time in which obesity prevention may be the most effective” (Waters, 2010).