In 2015, 12 per cent of kids here were overweight, or above the 90th Body Mass Index (BMI) percentile on BMI-for-age chart, based on the Health Promotion Board’s statistics. Last year, it went up to 13 per cent.
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The National University Hospital’s (NUH) division of paediatric endocrinology has also seen more parents seeking help for their kids’ weight issues in recent years.
Last year, it saw about 150 cases of weight-related problems, which is an estimated 130 per cent increase from 2013 to 2017, says Associate Professor Loke Kah Yin, the division’s head and senior consultant.
Overweight children are usually referred to the clinic from the polyclinics, general practitioners, private paediatricians and the School Health Services, he adds.
3 / 12 Blame it on environment and genesLoad more
Assoc Prof Loke explains that most overweight children do not have a medical condition. Rather, factors like genes and environment are likely the culprits.
For instance, children whose parents are obese are at a higher risk of becoming obese themselves, he shares. Local studies have also shown that parents may even affect their kids’ weight even before they are born, during the antenatal period.
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A child has a greater risk of obesity if the mother is obese before pregnancy, gains excessive weight during pregnancy and/or has gestational diabetes, says Dr Yvonne Lim, consultant at NUH’s Youth Lifestyle Change Clinic, a multidisciplinary weight management clinic.
“Hence, parents should keep a healthy weight before conceiving and maintain a healthy weight throughout pregnancy,” says Dr Lim, who is also a consultant with the NUH’s division of paediatric endocrinology.
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The next time you tell your kid to finish his food fast, consider this: Findings from the Growing Up in Singapore towards Healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) study in Singapore showed that faster eating rates may lead to higher energy intake within a meal, which may be associated with obesity in children, shares Dr Lim.
According to the study, fast eaters take larger bite sizes, chew food less and consume more energy. Overweight children tend to eat faster and have larger bite sizes.
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Encourage your child to chew his food longer before swallowing, advises Dr Lim. Additionally, breastfeeding and not starting solids too early may help as a short duration of breastfeeding and introducing solid foods early (before the age of four months) have been linked to a higher risk of childhood obesity.
Related: 10 healthy eating tips for pre-teens
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In a small percentage of children, obesity may be due to an underlying medical condition, says Dr Lim.
These children will have poor height gain or short stature. If your child is not growing in height but rapidly gaining weight, seek medical help, Dr Lim advises.
8 / 12 Seek medical helpLoad more
Keep a lookout for red flags. Is your kid rapidly gaining weight despite lifestyle interventions or has a body mass index above the 95th percentile on the BMI-forage chart?
Does he snore and seem excessively sleepy (which could suggest obstructive sleep apnoea)? If you notice these red flags, your child may need to be screened, Dr Lim says.
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One of the most significant consequences of being overweight is poor self-esteem and at times, depression, Assoc Prof Loke shares.
But more than just a body image issue, obesity can wreak havoc on your child’s physical health, as well.
Dr Lim adds: “We’ve seen children as young as 12 years old having Type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), hyper-lipidemia (high cholesterol) and fatty liver.”
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Other than Type 2 diabetes, the rest of the conditions are potentially reversible if your child is at a healthy weight, she says. Other immediate problems include irregular menses, knee and ankle problems, and obstructive sleep apnoea.
Longer-term problems include a higher risk of obesity as an adult, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and several types of cancer, Dr Lim warns.
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Get the whole family involved. Weight management is a complex process, and there are no quick fixes.
“We all wish there’s a magic pill that can cause weight loss but no, we don’t recommend weight loss supplements,” Dr Lim says.
“For a child to eat healthily and exercise regularly, the child and his family must have the appropriate knowledge to know what food/ beverage is healthy and the kind of exercise to do,” she adds.
“Applying that knowledge is another big challenge. That will require the family to be the role model and great motivation on the child’s part.”
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However, the most important thing parents must do is to take care of the child’s mental health while helping him lose excess weight.
“Always be positive and nurturing, give constructive feedback and praise when baby steps are achieved,” Dr Lim says.
“Saying negative words to the child may cause him to have poor self-esteem, which will negatively impact motivation.”