Chubby Children – Cause For Concern?

Chubby childYears ago when kids were overweight, parents did not see their chubbiness as a reason for alarm and typically put it down to -puppy-fat’ or something that their kids would outgrow. Today, with more and more kids becoming obese, obesity is a major cause for concern, especially in first-world countries like the United States where as many as 25% of children are morbidly obese.

Obesity is far more than just an overeating problem, but children who are obese will generally grow up to be obese adults and children who are battling with weight issues and will struggle with psychological problems as well as grave health problems.


What does it mean to be obese?

Before parents can be concerned about obesity, they need to have a good understanding on what being obese really means. By definition, obesity is -extremely overweight, weighing more than 20% (for boys) and 25% (for girls) over their ideal weight determined by height and build; or, having a body mass index over 30kg / m2 .  A child who is slightly overweight is not considered as obese.


South African children are following suit

South African parents are under the misconception that kids in SA are far behind their first-world counterparts when it comes to obesity but the facts are that South African, along with Australian and Brazilian kids are quickly catching up and obesity among kids is now seen as a major public health problem. Statistic released by the SA Medical Research Council reported that as many as 17% of our children aged between 1 and 9 years are significantly overweight!


Why is obesity a cause for concern?

Besides causing psychological problems, kids who are obese will suffer from adverse health conditions, which are easily preventable if weight is properly controlled. When it comes to the psychological issues, parents must remember that we live in a society that rates people on their appearances – thin is good and fat is bad. Kids who are overweight are teased and ridiculed and often suffer from diminished self-worth.

In terms of health problems, obese individuals are considered to be at a greater risk of developing Type II diabetes, hypertension, suffering from cardiovascular diseases, osteoarthritis, and sleep apnea, along with certain types of cancers.

Research has further indicated that 70% of teens who are obese will grow up to be obese adults!


The causes of obesity

Obesity is not just a matter of eating the wrong foods or eating too much food. Obesity is caused by a combination of factors and in order to help the child, parents will need to work through each and every factor. Certainly foods and diet play a major role in obesity but at the same time, the lack of physical activity, lifestyle choices; genetics and how the child sees food are all collective causes for obesity.


Food and diet

Weight issues result when the wrong foods are consumed. A lot of families are finding it difficult to prepare healthy and nutritious meals because of a lack of time and a long list of work and personal commitments. With so many takeaway outlets (virtually on our doorstep) parents are happy to pay over money for foods that have been incorrectly prepared, and which contain high volumes of saturated fats and sugars and which are non-nutritious.

For a better understand of calories – here is a list of the calories in popular McDonald’s kid’s menus:



Chicken McNuggets(R)
(Chicken Dishes)


Barbeque Sauce




French Fries
(Potatoes) (1 serving = 176 grams)



In comparison:

Homemade chicken nuggets, made with skinless breasts, parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs have a calorie count of 194 calories (almost 100 calories less than the McNuggets).

Homemade French fries (per 100 grams) have a calorie count of just 200 calories / 100 grams compared to the whopping 540 calories for McDonald’s (176 grams) of French Fries.


Physical Activity

Rather than enjoying the fresh air and running around outside, kids are confined indoors and spend their day watching TV, playing computer games and doing little or no exercise. South African schools are realising that they need to help parents fight the battle against obesity and they are now reintroducing PE (Physical Education) into the school curriculum.

With parents working late, most families do not arrive home until after dark – this limits any outdoor family activities, such as walks, etc.


Food and Lifestyle

Overeating is not caused by hunger but kids who have lowered self-esteem will often look to food as a comfort-provider and will use food to fill a void. Besides eating for comfort, kids associate watching TV with snacks and if kid spends their free hours watching TV, they will eat the wrong foods, like chips, chocolates, etc.

To get over this obstacle, parents must help their kids see food in a different light and are urged to work through any self esteem issues that are causing kids to see food as a comfort (rather than a nutritional need).

Boredom is a further contributing cause for overeating. When children are not active or when kids have little stimulation, they tend to use food to beat boredom.



In some cases, genetics plays a role in obesity. Studies have shown that infants who are born to overweight mothers have been found to be far less active and tend to gain more weight by age three months in comparison to infants who are born to normal weight mothers. There are other hereditary causes for weight issues and if these are suspected, it may be beneficial for the whole family to consult a professional dietician who will develop a healthy eating plan for the entire family.


How to beat the bulge?

Kids do not have to be overweight or obese to follow a healthy eating plan and to enjoy outdoor activities. Preventing obesity is a lot easier than trying to fight it.

  • Food is necessary for survival. Parents are urged to look for healthy alternatives to takeaways. Most families are strapped for time, but this should not be an excuse for a poor diet. Plan ahead and work out a healthy menu.
  • Encourage kids to sign up for sports. Spend time outside as a family, by picnicking or joining hiking clubs.
  • Insist that the TV is turned off when the sun is shining.
  • If parents suspect that kids are suffering from low self-esteem issues and are using food to fill a void, parents need to work towards rectifying the cause of their low self-esteem. If needed, enlist the help of a trained professional.

Parents cannot afford to ignore weight issues! Obesity leads to so many dangerous, secondary health aliments and conditions and as parents, we need to take responsibility for our child’s health and wellbeing.


 – Kathy Baron


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