Analysis: FREDRICK CHITANGALA
Child obesity: Parents, have huge role to play
THE Zambia Daily Mail of Thursday, January 31, 2019 carried an article on obesity, bad nutrition and climate change.
On the same article was a picture of Santiago Mendoza, the 2015 world fattest baby who weighed 20 kilogrammes at only eight months of age.
In 2014, his mother, Eunice Fandiño, made headlines when she said her own ‘ignorance’ had led to her son’s unhealthy weight gain and that, every time he cried, she gave him food or milk to calm him down.
In the afternoon of that same day, while at Manda Hill, I heard a man on his phone while standing in front of a famous fast food eatery. “Hello, tell the maid not to cook food for the kids because I am about to buy them 3 packs of chicken and chips for dinner.” he said.
What would I say about this man who wants to buy fast food for dinner for his kids when even a nice, healthy home cooked meal was an option? A Fleet Street Fox Columnist, once wrote in the UK Mirror that fat babies like Santiago Mendoza are the fault of stupid parents and that it was child abuse (though I must mention that some people become obese due to genetic predisposition).
Now, many of us may not have babies as big as Santiago but we surely have been in positions where we could use food like a doctor would use diazepam to calm a patient. Let’s bring this closer to home. What do kids carry to school? Deep fried salty chips; corn snacks and it’s ok. Really? And by the way, nowadays everyone is too busy and, apparently, no food is cooked without cooking oil. Everyone just seems to agree that frying is the only possible way of cooking and that no sauce can be made without cooking oil. I always wonder all of the sudden food must taste or look better if and when fried. How about roasting, grilling or boiling? I think we must rethink our priorities.
Do we have to wonder then, when we hear that the prevalence of overweight/obesity has increased steadily from 12 percent in 2001-02 to 19 percent in 2007 and 23 percent in 2013-14 in Zambia?
On top of all what we feed our children and ourselves, we are leading a very catatonic and stuporous lifestyle. We don’t physically move as much as before. We drive even for shorter distances. We come home to sit and eat while watching TV. When kids return from schools, it’s TVs and video games. The kids in the suburbs would rarely participate in traditional outdoor games such as touch, chidunu, and chimpombwa soccer. We played these games, yes, for the fun of it, but we had a chance to burn the excess calories we got from the nshima. We are seeing more and more fat kids than we saw some decades ago.
Parents, have a huge role to play. We have even taught our kids that eating roller meal is a sign of poverty and yet it’s healthier than the breakfast meal which is so refined that almost all good nutrients except carbohydrates are discarded. Let us wake up, we are killing our future. If your child is overweight by the time they get into grade one, they are likely to be overweight teenagers and obese adults if you as a parent decides not to do something proactively.
There’s overwhelming evidence that shows that overweight children and teenagers are at risk of serious medical conditions that include osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and breathing problems, high blood pressure, clinical depression, coronary heart disease, gallbladder disease, anxiety, stroke, and they might experience difficulty with physical functioning.
The Public Health Act Cap 295 of the Laws of Zambia was enacted to provide for the prevention and suppression of diseases and generally to regulate all matters connected with public health in Zambia. However, this particular law does not talk about non-communicable diseases such as those connected to obesity.
Hence when public health inspectors do their inspections at restaurants, they may not bother about what kind of cooking oil (saturated or unsaturated? vegetable or animal?) is being used for public consumption or how much salt is in those chips. People with heart disease or those at risk may have higher amounts of saturated fats in their diet. Saturated fats can increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol) which may increase risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats are better because they reduce levels of LDL, act as inflammatory, and can build strong cell membranes in the body. But which eatery on Cairo Road or at these fancy malls will tell what type of oil they used in preparing food?
Diet alone may not bring obesity and overweight epidemic under control. We need to promote healthy eating habits and encourage exercise. This must be backed up by public policies that promote access to healthy, low-fat, high-fibre foods. The healthcare professionals’ capacity to effectively support people who need to lose weight must be developed.
As an individual, please take more fruit, raw vegetables, nuts and whole grain (as much as possible, avoid refined mealie meal, breakfast). And find time to exercise. Come to OYDC and we can enrol you in our gym. Bring your child we enroll them in one of the many sports programs that includes taekwondo, judo, hockey, swimming, football, tennis, beach volleyball and many more. We need you healthy, we need you tomorrow. A healthy Zambia is a wealthy Zambia.
This is the Zambia I want.
The author is a public health specialist.
Analysis: FREDRICK CHITANGALA