By Marli Naidoo
More and more South African children are overweight. It has been found that 18% of children between the ages of 15 and 17 are overweight or suffer from obesity. The rate is considerably higher among girls (22%) than among boys (15%), and among children who live in urban areas (20%) as compared to rural areas (16%).
This is a complex problem, however, and the cause has many components. It has been found that in many cases children and teenagers are overweight and growth-handicapped. They eat food but the food is poor in micronutrients. This is found not only among teens in poor communities. Increased wealth and lower levels of physical activity, accompanied by the intake of energy-dense food, lead to weight gain.
A bland diet based mainly on starch is once again common in households with food insecurity and is a big cause of poor eating habits among teenagers. Most adolescents in Africa have poor eating habits. They skip breakfast, have a high intake of salt, sugar and fats and don’t do physical exercise.
Unfortunately there is no simple solution. You can instruct children in the value of healthy eating habits and exercise, but this will not give them access to healthy food. The choice of a healthy life is not altogether in their hands. The problem is much bigger.
The ideal is that healthy food must become cheaper and more readily available. Schools should not sell unhealthy snacks but offer children health options. It must also be made safer for young people to walk to school or the shops, or safe areas must be introduced where children and teenagers can move around outside without feeling unsafe. Only then can education start. Children and parents are then taught to take their physical wellbeing into their own hands, to make better decisions, and what the consequences would be should they decide not to make these positive changes..
It is immensely important that the government should intervene and begin to counteract food insecurity. Education in healthy eating habits and exercise must also become a priority. If this is not done, overweight and obesity among young people will simply keep on growing worse. By 2025 there are going to be around 3,91 million overweight and obese children. This will result in 120 000 children with weakened glucose tolerance (prediabetes) and 68 000 children with diabetes.
Young people must also begin to make each other aware of the dangers of malnutrition, lifestyles without movement and exercise, and the value of good eating habits. Communities and schools must work together and make sure that children get the food their bodies need.
Universiteit van Kaapstad: http://www.health.uct.ac.za/news/co-create-encourages-youth-tackle-obesity
Sunday Times: https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2019-12-10-sa-children-are-overweight-and-lack-vital-nutrients-report/