Childhood obesity is becoming more prevalent around the world, and the situation is no better in Hong Kong or Mainland China.

According to the Department of Health (DH), about one in five Hong Kong children and adolescents are considered overweight.

The findings are equally alarming in China, where one in six boys and one in eleven girls were deemed obese.

Traditionally, eating habits is perceived as the major role in the genesis of obesity. Yet, studies have found some other factors which also contribute to childhood obesity.

Grandparents contribute to childhood obesity in China


In China, grandparents might be one of the reasons behind childhood obesity. The findings were concluded by a study published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity in 2015.

The study pointed out grandparents believe fat children are healthier and well cared for. Despite knowing their children are overweight, they believe obesity related diseases can only happen in adults. Consequently, they tend to overfeed their children, as well as excusing the children from household chores. Conflicts often arise as parents and schoolteachers tend to hold different childcare beliefs from the grandparents. These conflicts are likely to undermine efforts to promote weight loss in children.

Despite knowing their children are overweight, grandparents believe obesity related diseases can only happen in adults.
Despite knowing their children are overweight, grandparents believe obesity related diseases can only happen in adults.

"These attitudes and beliefs largely stem from the historical context of famine and poverty in China during their childhood, where being slim represented poverty and poor health," one of the authors wrote in the study.

The findings emphasise the role of culture in shaping children’s health. Compared to Western countries, grandparents play a more significant role in childcare in Asia .

Additionally, parental obesity is reflected in their children. Another study conducted in Hong Kong found that children with obese fathers and mothers were 2.7 and 5.1 times more likely to be overweight, comparing to peers whose parents were not obese.

The association between screen time and obesity


The surge in the usage of tablets and smartphones amongst children is another threat. Comparing to children who spent 1 hour or less a day in front of a screen, a study discovered children who spent more than 2 hours doubled the chance of becoming overweight. What makes it worse is that children tend to reach out for junk food to snack on while sitting in front of the computer or television.

Comparing to children who spent 1 hour or less a day in front of a screen, a study discovered children who spent more than 2 hours doubled the chance of becoming overweight.
Comparing to children who spent 1 hour or less a day in front of a screen, a study discovered children who spent more than 2 hours doubled the chance of becoming overweight.

Children also sacrifice the time for physical exercise at the expense of an increased screen time. And it causes children to sleep less. Compared to those who slept more than 11 hours per day, children who slept less than nine hours per day were 69% more likely to be overweight .

Poor adaptation to stress packs on pounds in children


According to a survey carried out by the UNICEF Yong Envoys in 2014, 90% of students attending primary or secondary schools faced academic pressure. While stress is usually associated with mental illness, it was found stress can also contribute to obesity.

> Read more: Gone too soon: A spate of youth suicides in Hong Kong


A John Hopkins University study found that children consumed more calories in the absence of hunger when they experienced stress. The research group used the Trier Social Stress Test for Children, which employs common activities a child may perceive as stressors. These include giving a speech or performing a mathematics task.

"Our results suggest that some children who are at risk of becoming obese can be identified by their biological response to a stressor," said Lori Francis, associate professor of biobehavioral health.

Global efforts in tackling childhood obesity


The increasing trend of overweight children is not exclusive to East Asia. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the number of obese infants and young children between the ages of 0 to 5 to be 42 million in 2013. It was a huge jump from 32 million in 1990.

> Read more: Anti-obesity: FDA approves new stomach-draining device


To call for actions against this worrying trend, the WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan established the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) in 2014. "Overcoming Childhood Obesity" has also become the theme of the World Obesity Day in 2016. MIMS

Sources:
http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201610/11/P2016101100232.htm
https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-015-0251-z
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2015/07/17/why-are-chinas-little-emperors-getting-so-fat-blame-the-grandparents-study-says/?utm_term=.7de4aaf77253
http://www.chp.gov.hk/files/pdf/ncd_watch_mar2015.pdf
https://www.studenthealth.gov.hk/english/internet/report/files/e_report.pdf
http://news.psu.edu/story/264003/2013/02/14/research/poor-stress-responses-may-lead-obesity-children