This week the NZ Government announced 22 new and expanded initiatives to combat childhood obesity.
It’s good to see the epidemic of childhood overweight and obesity being recognised as something more than a personal weight problem. However, the diet and exercise regimens of these already overweight/obesity children are only part of the issue.
Research shows that the likelihood of a child developing obesity, and a raft of related diseases, starts early in life – even before conception – and that the risk can be passed down the generations. The health and wellbeing of the parents (yes parents, not just the mother) and grandparents provide a significant degree of ‘fetal programming’ of the child’s metabolism and growth, and effects their likelihood of developing risk factors for occurrence of non-communicable diseases later in life; diseases such as, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, some cancers and even possibly Alzheimer disease.
This new plan is largely focused on those children that are already obese.
Notably absent is a strategy to work with the education sector to integrate an exploration of the issues around health, nutrition and exercise in young, school-going future parents – irrespective of their BMI status – using the many existing opportunities for this within the school curriculum. Childhood overweight/obesity is an increasing issue, the more that can be done to reduce the number of children likely to develop obesity in the future will help to reduce the burden of obesity and associated issues at an individual, community and national level.
It is only with education and change across the whole community – not just those children who are currently identified as obese – that we will be able to turn the tide on childhood obesity.