This is why prevention of obesity in preschoolers matters

Eat healthily and avoid frequent consumption of ultra-processed foods and foods with a lot of sugar, thus reducing the risk of overweight and obesity.

This is why prevention of obesity in preschoolers matters
Preventing childhood obesity is a priority for programs serving young children. Photo by Rei Kim / Unsplash

Obesity is an excessive accumulation of fat that can be detrimental to health and can predispose to other diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, among others.

The preschool stage is the ideal time to provide nutritional information and promote positive attitudes towards food, as well as a healthy lifestyle in general, since inappropriate eating habits are often acquired during this stage, such as preferences for industrialized and high-calorie foods. In addition, physical inactivity also plays an important role in the development of obesity; in children, it may be due to excessive television and computer use.

That is why a study was conducted at the Center for Research in Food and Development (CIAD) that sought to evaluate the weight, height, and physical activity in preschool children, and found that 30% of them were possibly overweight, 7.5% were overweight and 2% obese; in addition, 15% reported a sedentary lifestyle, which means that they spend many hours of the day watching television and using the computer.

Obesity in childhood and adolescence is associated with serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, coronary heart disease, and cancer. One of the strongest risk factors for a child to become obese is that his or her parents also suffer from obesity. Therefore, to avoid or reduce the risk of these diseases, it is very important to have a nutrient-rich diet at home.

Children's activities likely depend on the mother or father, which is why it is recommended to maintain family activities where exercise is present, for example, through outdoor games. It is also important to maintain a good diet at home; a good help is to eliminate juices from the child's diet, because of their sugar content, and get them used to drink water. In this way the child is educated to eat healthily and avoids frequent consumption of ultra-processed foods and foods with a lot of sugar, thus reducing the risk of overweight and obesity.

Risk factors for the development of obesity in preschoolers

Many situations and customs change over time, and our way of eating is no exception. In our country, the consumption of industrialized products has increased and the consumption of natural foods has decreased.

Currently, there is still a preference for high-calorie foods, which were scarce in the past, but which are now low-cost and easily accessible; however, these foods are often harmful to health. Overall, this change in diet has led to a "double burden" in malnutrition, where, on the one hand, we have the problem of malnutrition and, on the other, the serious problem of overweight and obesity.

Overweight and obesity are excessive accumulation of fat in the body that can be detrimental to health. It is considered that 44% of diabetes cases, 23% of heart diseases, and between 7 and 41% of adult cancers are attributed precisely to obesity. In children, these diseases appear with increasing frequency and are associated with a higher probability of early death and disability in adulthood.

On a social level, obesity often affects self-esteem and causes depression in children who suffer from it, as they are often teased, discriminated against, victimized, and may be socially marginalized. This, in turn, affects children's ability to relate to others, leading to social isolation.

A study conducted at the Center for Research in Food and Development (CIAD) found that low economic income is associated with obesity and poor eating habits; however, this condition is also related to greater physical activity in children and more time spent breastfeeding, which favors children's health.

Among the findings, it was also identified that parents' lack of nutrition knowledge, as well as their beliefs and behaviors, are a risk factor for their children to become obese since they do not have the appropriate tools to monitor the proper nutrition of their offspring. In addition, they may have a wrong perception about their children's weight, together with other factors such as lack of time, stress, and fatigue.

It is important to consider that most of the risk factors for children to suffer from obesity are modifiable; that is, they are changeable and can be avoided. Parents should try to ensure good nutrition for their children, provide breastfeeding for at least one year, engage in physical exercise through games and fun activities, ensure frequent consumption of plain water and reduce meals away from home.

Author: Abril Peña Meza, Master of Science student, and Graciela Caire Juvera and María del Socorro Saucedo Tamayo, researchers of the Nutrition Coordination of CIAD.