For busy parents, occupying their children with a tablet or cell phone for short periods throughout the day provides some much-needed relaxation time. But while it’s often been said that young children shouldn’t spend too much time with their faces glued to screens, a little here and there doesn’t hurt, right? Well, actually, it might… That’s because the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently issued new guidelines that state children under two should have zero sedentary screen time (that includes TVs, tablets and video games). The limit for two- to four-year-olds, the WHO says, should be an hour a day, and less is always better. In light of the new WHO advice, UK health ministers have said they will not amend their own guidelines, which currently advise no screen time before bedtime, but do not set maximum time limits. The new WHO guidelines are designed to tackle the practice of giving young children screens for entertainment purposes e.g. handing them a cell phone or sitting them down in front of a TV. The reason for this is to combat childhood inactivity, which can lead to obesity-related ill health and is a leading risk factor for global mortality.
Some of us turn to food for comfort when we are feeling emotional or stressed. Likewise, some of us cut back on food when we are feeling upset. But they are habits that could be influencing our children too. That’s because new research by University College London has found that children who eat more or less when stressed or upset have learnt the behaviour rather than inherited it, suggesting home environments are the primary cause of emotional eating. Parental acts such as giving children their favourite food when they are feeling upset have been highlighted as potential reasons for the habits forming. But UK-based eating disorder charity Beat says parents shouldn’t be blamed for their children’s eating issues. "Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses and never have one sole cause," the charity said. The study, which was published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, analysed 398 four-year-old British twins. Half came from families with obese parents and half from parents with a healthy weight. The parents were asked questions about their children’s eating habits, including their tendencies to emotionally eat. The researchers compared the questionnaire data relating to eating disorders between identical and non-identical twins and found very little difference between the two, which suggests environment plays a bigger role than genes.
It’s natural for grandparents to dote on their grandchildren and give them sweet treats whenever they see them. But new research suggests this and other influences could have a negative impact on their grandchildren’s health. For the research, the team from the University of Glasgow analysed 56 different studies which included data from 18 countries, including the UK, US, China and Japan. They focused on the influence of grandparents who were significant in their grandchildren’s lives, but who weren’t necessarily primary caregivers. Three areas of influence were considered: diet and weight, physical activity and smoking. When it came to their grandchildren’s diet and weight, grandparents were found to have an adverse impact, with many studies highlighting how they feed their grandchildren high-sugar or high-fat foods - often in the guise of a treat. The researchers also found that grandchildren were perceived to get too little exercise while under the supervision of their grandparents. However, this did depend on whether the grandparents were physically active themselves or not. Furthermore, smoking around grandchildren became an area of conflict between parents and grandparents, with the latter often smoking while their grandchildren were present, even though they had been asked not to. Talking about the findings of the study, lead researcher Dr Stephanie Chambers said: "While the results of this review are clear that behaviour such as exposure to smoking and regularly treating children increases cancer risks as children grow into adulthood, it is also clear from the evidence that these risks are unintentional. "Given that many parents now rely on grandparents for care, the mixed messages about health that children might be getting is perhaps an important discussion that needs to be had."
We recently reported that childhood obesity rates are 10 times higher today than they were in 1975. This worrying trend is only set to continue unless more is done to tackle obesity in children. So-called “sugar taxes” on soft drinks in various countries around the world and France’s decision to ban unlimited fizzy drinks in restaurants, fast food-chains, schools and holiday camps, are definitely steps in the right direction. Now, hospitals in England have laid out plans to ban the sale of any sweets or chocolate that contain more than 250 calories. Going forward, super-sized chocolate bars will become a thing of the past in hospital vending machines and canteens. In addition, pre-packed sandwiches with more than 450 calories and/or 5g of saturated fat per 100g will also be banned. Hospitals will be given a cash boost to help them facilitate the changes. The decision to ban fattening and sugary food products in hospitals is actually win-win for the National Health Service (NHS). These foods are major contributors to obesity and many other conditions/diseases, such as preventable diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease and cancer – all of which put enormous strain on the health service. Public Health England says hospitals have an "important role" in tackling obesity and not just dealing with the consequences.
A new report by Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), reveals that obesity in children is 10 times higher today than it was in 1975. Even more startling is the report’s prediction that within five years, more children will be obese than underweight. For the research, lead author Prof. Majid Ezzati, of the School of Public Health at ICL, and his team of over 1,000 researchers examined the body mass index (BMI) of almost 130 million people living in 200 countries, including 31.5 million individuals between 5 and 19 years old – making this study the largest of its kind. They found that total childhood obesity rates have risen globally by more than 10-fold in the past forty years. More specifically, in 1975, there were 5 million obese girls. In 2016, this number had risen to 50 million. A similar trend was found for boys, with 6 million obese in 1975 compared to 74 million in 2016. The researchers say that if the trend continues, there will be more obese children in the world than underweight ones by the end of 2020. Commenting on the findings, Prof. Ezzati said: “The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and also malnourished. We need ways to make healthy, nutritious food more available at home and school, especially in poor families and communities, and regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy foods.” The findings of the study were published in The Lancet.
Children who have TVs in their bedrooms are more likely to be overweight than those who don’t, according to new research. Published in the International Journal of Obesity, the study by scientists from University College London analysed data from more than 12,000 children in the UK. They found that girls in particular were more likely to put on weight the longer they spent watching TV. The scientists found more than 50% of the children had TVs in their bedrooms at the age of seven. Interestingly, girls who had TVs in their bedrooms at the age of seven were 30% more likely to be overweight by the time they were 11, compared to kids who did not have TVs in their bedrooms. For boys, the risk was slightly less at 20%. While the link between TVs and being overweight isn’t fully known, the researchers believe it is due to the children getting less sleep and snacking while they are in front of their TVs. Researcher Dr Anja Heilmann said: "Our study shows there is clear link between having a TV in the bedroom as a young child and being overweight a few years later." The scientists behind the research are now calling for more studies to see if similar patterns exist with laptops and mobile phones.
From 1999 to 2014, rates of severe obesity among kids in the US climbed, highlighting that the issue still very much continues to plague American children today. Examining national data over the 15-year period, researchers found that a third of children in the US aged between two and 19 were overweight. They also found, more worryingly, that nearly a quarter were obese and two per cent severely obese. Lead researcher Asheley Skinner, from the Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, N.C., said: "Despite other recent reports, all categories of obesity have increased from 1999 to 2014, and there is no evidence of a decline in the last few years." Skinner added that there are currently 4.5 million obese kids in the US who urgently need treatment because they have a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, compared with children their age who are not obese. "Unless we make big changes on a national level, we're not going to see huge changes in obesity," Skinner said. By changing school lunches; increasing opportunities for physical activity, and allowing parents access to more healthy food options, the problem of childhood obesity can be tackled head-on, according to Skinner. The study, the results of which were published in the journal Obesity, also found that rates of obesity were higher in black and hispanic children, suggesting these groups need particular help going forward to combat the problem.
Childhood obesity is a complicated disease that’s on the rise globally and now affects over twice as many children as it did 30 years ago. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In an attempt to understand how the link between parents and obese children can be used to improve paediatric health, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied the responses given by 2,976 questionnaire respondents – 369 of which had children who were heavily overweight. During the study, the researchers uncovered that 31 percent of the parents interviewed were unable to classify their own child’s BMI scale range. This is worrying because it suggests that many parents simply do not acknowledge when their child is overweight and, therefore, are unlikely to do anything about it. The study’s senior author, Dr. Sanjay Kinra - reader in clinical epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – said: "If parents are unable to accurately classify their own child's weight, they may not be willing or motivated to enact the changes to the child's environment that promote healthy weight maintenance.” Staggeringly, more than one third of American children are either overweight or obese and that’s a problem which will only worsen unless parents start taking measures now. Another of the study’s authors, Professor Russell Viner - an academic paediatrician at the UCL Institute of Child Health – said: "Measures that decrease the gap between parental perceptions of child weight status and obesity scales used by medical professionals may now be needed in order to help parents better understand the health risks associated with overweight and increase uptake of healthier lifestyles.” Photo credit: U.S. News