By Dr Jack van Zyl, 6 September 2018
A quarter of these children live in Africa. What’s causing the obesity onslaught? Sanlam Group Risk Medical Adviser, Dr Jack van Zyl, says it’s a combination of factors such as socioeconomic changes and shifting nutrition patterns, not to mention increased inactivity. Luckily, new research shows that some of the effects of childhood obesity can be reversed if there’s an early enough intervention.
This Heart Awareness month, Dr Jack says it’s vital for parents and guardians to look after their children’s heart health. “The European Heart Journal published a study that showed that young people who achieved a normal weight by their twenties had the same risk for high blood pressure and high cholesterol as those who were never overweight. This is extremely positive as these factors can cause illnesses like some cancers and cardiac diseases down-the-line.”
Dr Jack says that although the risk for diabetes is still higher for obese children who are normal weight by early adulthood, the elimination of the higher risk of heart disease should not be underestimated, “In SA, five people have heart attacks and 10 people have strokes every hour. Collectively, 17.3-million die from cardiovascular diseases every year – that’s more than all cancers combined. We have to start our children on a healthy path from a young age to combat this kind of risk.”
“Kids are extremely flexible so it’s vital to change their habits when they’re young. There are no quick fixes – changing a habit takes time, patience and positivity. Parents need to identify when there’s a problem and intervene early. It’s important that this intervention is done compassionately and sensitively. Obesity also brings about a host of prospective sensitivities and can be a very emotional subject so it needs to be handled thoughtfully and holistically, in a way that builds confidence in the young person.”
Along with the health issues that childhood obesity can bring about, Dr Jack says obese young adults also face higher loading on their
health insurance premiums, “Every risk factor comes with expression time. In a 60 year-old, some of the risk factors will already have developed – for example hypertension could have led to a heart attack. But in a young person, they’re probably still going to develop, so you may have to load the premium to account for the unexpressed risks. That’s why an overweight 25-year-old may be paying relatively more for insurance than a 60-year-old with the same body mass index.”