Take steps to reduce diabetes in children

The Consumers Association of Penang calls on the relevant authorities to take immediate step to reduce diabetes in children.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that type 2 diabetes has increasingly been reported in children and adolescents, and in some parts of the world type that 2 diabetes has become the main type of diabetes in children. The global rise of childhood obesity and physical inactivity is widely believed to play a contributing factor to the situation.

Malaysia is not spared from this problem as more young people, some as young as seven, are suffering from Type 2 diabetes (T2D) and the figure is currently on the rising trend. This is due to the spike in the rate of obesity which is related to bad eating habits.

This is not surprising as statistics on public health have revealed an alarming rise in obesity cases among children. According to a survey, it was found that one in every five children is overweight or obese.

Studies have showed that childhood obesity levels in Malaysia are higher than in most Asian countries. Data from various research groups have indicated that as many as 15% of toddlers and preschool children in the country could be overweight and obese. Among primary school children, 30% of them could be overweight and obese. These statistics are not surprising as overweight children and youngsters are a common sight at public places.

Children today are exposed to many lifestyle factors that influence their eating habits. Parents can shape dietary habits and educate their children on the importance of good nutrition from an early age. They should also set a good example by practicing good dietary habits themselves, as the rising cases of child obesity could be attributed to the poor dietary habits of their parents.

It is estimated that some 40 % of obesity cases among children were due to parental lifestyle choices such as taking the children to eat out at night. The situation is further exacerbated with the proliferation of 24-hour stalls and fast food restaurants across the country in recent years.

When children are exposed to an unbalanced diet from a young age, they will learn to accept it as a norm and make it into a habit for life. An inclination towards food high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar can contribute to health problems such as obesity.

Children who are overweight or obese face an increased risk of developing serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol – all once considered exclusively adult diseases.

According to the Malaysian Mental Health Association, in addition to medical problems, obese or overweight children may also suffer psychological problems such as low self-esteem that stems from being teased or bullied by peers, develop unhealthy dieting habits and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, be more prone to depression or are at risk for substance abuse.

There is no single cause of childhood obesity; instead it is a combination of various factors, such as lifestyle, environment, genetics, antibiotics and toxic chemicals called obesogens.

According to experts, the “fat phenomenon” in our country can be attributed to a combination of poor eating habits, a diet high in calories, and a decline in physical activity, resulting in more caloric intake than is required by the body.

Furthermore, too much screen time (TV, computers and smart phones) has also contributed to children’s sedentary lifestyles. Children now spend less time being physically active during school as well as at home. There has been an immense change over the years in children’s entertainment; from physical or outdoor activities to indoor computer games and television. To further compound this problem, there are not many safe or conducive places to play or be active outdoors, especially in urban areas.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic conditions to affect children. It is linked to obesity

It can strike children of any age even toddlers and babies. If not detected early in a child, diabetes can be fatal or it may result in serious brain damage. Yet diabetes in a child is often completely overlooked it is often misdiagnosed as the flu or not diagnosed at all.

As today is World Diabetes Day, CAP would like to call on the relevant authorities to take immediate action to address the growing obesity problem among the young as obesity will lead to diabetes and many diseases including cancer in their adulthood. These measures should include:

>  Ban vending machines in schools, hospitals and other public places

> Mandate clear labeling on fat content of all foods, including fast foods

> Run education  campaign for parents and children  on the dangers of  obesity and diabetes

Provide adequate recreational amenities in all residential areas.

> Tax junk food that has high sugar and fat content.

Parents should inculcate good eating habits among children at the same time they should spend quality time with their children by involving themselves in more physical activities.

Press Release, 12th November 2015