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generation fat

The number of obese children and teens is increasing dramatically, a trend that many health officials are now calling a public health crisis. As times are financially tougher, the sales of convenience food increases. Unfortunately, these foods have more preservatives and sugar and are relatively empty calories with little nutritional value.

Fast foods have become our lunch and sometimes dinner. Check out the sugar content which can be disguised as palm oil, sucrose, fructose, saccharine and aspartame. A lot of low-fat foods contain large amounts of sugar, especially soft drinks and yoghurts.

There should be a health warning on many of these products -- parents who think they are being health conscious might be adding 10-20 spoonfuls of sugar a day to their child's diet, leading to obesity and behavioural problems.

Children will emulate their parents and studies show that more than one third of adults are overweight. Children today are fatter than their parents were at their age and as they get older, they are likely to grow to the monstrous sizes that many Americans now attain.

Obese Children Often Become Obese Adults Size is not the only factor. Being overweight can mean higher blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, particularly in children genetically prone to these conditions. Overweight children can suffer social and psychological stresses because they appear "different" from their peers.

The greatest risk, however comes if children remain overweight into adulthood, which studies show is a strong possibility. Obese children who become obese adults are at greater risk -- at a younger age -- of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gallbladder disease, arthritis and certain cancers.

intervene early "If you can intervene with overweight children before they are fully grown, you can often help them to grow into their weight and prevent them from becoming overweight adults," explains Dr Paul Mathias, lecturer in human nutrition and consultant nutritionist at Sona Nutrition. "Some overweight children don't need to lose weight as much as they need to gain weight at a slower rate," he adds.

During infancy and early adolescence, fat normally increases faster than muscle. Overeating and under-activity during these times make children particularly vulnerable to excessive weight gain.

Some research supports the fat-cell theory of obesity which suggests that fat cells formed in childhood stay with you throughout life. Developing abnormally high numbers of fat cells may also increase your appetite, which makes it harder to lose weight.

What causes obesity? Weight gain among children is likely to be due to a combination of factors including poor dietary habits, genetic make-up, family lifestyle and socio-economic status. Overweight children are not necessarily over-eaters. Unfortunately, much of the food they enjoy contains high amounts of calories. An extra 200 calories a day (the amount in one can of fizzy drink!) can cause a child to gain almost one-half pound a week.

The average teen drinks gallons of soft drinks annually. School-age children have increased their consumption of these beverages by more than tenfold in the past two decades.

Inactivity Weight control involves balancing food intake with the energy burned in everyday activities. Low levels of physical activity may play a greater role in childhood obesity than eating lots of high-calorie food.

Why are children today less active? Many blame increased television viewing. Watching TV doesn't require much energy and often is accompanied by snacking on high-calorie foods. Irish statistics show, on average, children watch 17 hours of television a week and that's not counting the time spent playing video and computer games.

One study found the odds of being overweight were nearly five times greater for youths watching more than five hours of television per day compared with those who watched from zero to two hours per day.

According to one report, nearly half of young people aged 12 to 21 are not vigorously active. The number of schools that offer physical education classes are fewer than in the 1960s and 1970s and many children today find team sports too competitive or costly to join.

in the genes The risk of becoming obese is greatest among children who have two obese parents. Researchers studied 540 adopted Danish children, who are now adults.

They found no relationship between weight of the adoptive parents and adopted children, but there was a strong link between the weight of the adopted children and their biological parents, even though 90pc of the children had been adopted before the age of one.

The researchers concluded that genetic factors are important in determining obesity in adults and when a genetic tendency is combined with habits that promote weight gain, it's more likely that a child will be overweight. So if obesity is common in a family, it is important to pay extra attention to diet and exercise.

It's a family affair Weight control is not easy at any age, but it can be nearly impossible for overweight children and teenagers if loved ones make fun of them.

The whole family needs to promote healthy living in a way that is fun and inviting to the child. Parents need to practise what they preach, setting good dietary and exercise

examples.

Sometimes, a doctor and a dietician can assess the severity of the weight problem and suggest a specific diet for your child, taking into account their nutrient needs for normal growth.

With careful, loving attention, your child can develop healthy patterns of eating and activity.


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