This essay will analyse some of the main health risks posed by weight gain and obesity such as the risk of developing chronic heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It will also discuss some of the factors that can impact on wellbeing and the strategies in place nationally to promote healthy living habits.
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The World Health Organisation (W.H.O), reports that weight gain is a global issue, and reports that “42 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese in 2013”. Their research found that people who are overweight have a higher risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), cancer and stroke.
To reduce these risks we need to help the body maintain good weight. The British Heart Foundation(BHF) advises people to seek support from a GP or even family and friends who can help to establish long term goals to achieve this. In relation to this, there are two calculations used by health professionals to predict if someone is at increased risk of serious illness: waist circumference and body mass index or BMI (Body Mass Index), calculated by dividing one’s weight (kg) by the square of their height (m).
Defining children as overweight is a difficult process since their height and weight changes at the same time, and growth patterns differ between the sexes so separate charts are used for calculations. The National Child Measurement Programme analyses these calculations in preschool children aged 4-6 in the UK and are a part of national measures to tackle obesity. A 2013 survey by Public Health England (PHE) found that obesity prevalence in 4-5 and 10-11 year old’s has been increasing. These children would need to lose weight to improve their health and lessen the risk that they will become obese adults. In 2012 The BHF estimated that more than a quarter of adults in England were obese.
In its 2012 statistical report, the BHF reported that coronary heart disease was the biggest killer in the UK in 2010. It is a common consequence of being overweight and obese and occurs when fatty material blocks arteries. The BHF advises people to eat healthily, lower alcohol consumption, exercise and avoid smoking to lower the risk.
Being overweight can affect the risk of cancer because fat tissues in the body produce hormones that can affect the way cells work. According to Cancer Research UK, obesity is linked to one in twenty cancers in the UK and is also a factor in three of the hardest to treat cancers including: pancreatic, gallbladder and oesophageal.
Smoking also increases the risk of developing at least 13 types of cancer including Lung Cancer. Chemicals in cigarettes permanently damage DNA which can cause cancer cells to grow and multiply. Smoking is also a major cause of Strokes and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). People suffering from COPD struggle to breathe in and out due to the long term damage to the tissue around the lungs. The NHS estimates that nearly three million people in the UK are affected by COPD. People can slow the progression of the disease by stopping smoking, eating healthily and exercising.
Like Coronary Heart Disease, strokes are linked to high blood pressure, which is often linked to smoking. Strokes occur when the brain’s blood supply is restricted when the arteries become blocked causing blood clots. The NHS advises people to reduce the risk of stroke by eating a healthy diet which can lower cholesterol levels, exercising regularly and cutting down smoking and alcohol consumption.
According to Diabetes UK, diabetes affects 3.2 million people in the UK and is associated with high or low glucose and poor blood circulation since it causes arteries to become ‘’furred up’’. Diabetes occurs when there is too much glucose in the blood. Type 1 Diabetes usually appears in childhood and can be controlled by insulin injections. Type 2 Diabetes usually appears in people over 40, and is treated by a combination of eating healthy, exercising and medication. Complications can occur when diabetes is not managed properly since high glucose levels can damage the small blood vessels that supply key organs. Diabetes UK lists complications including: cardiovascular and kidney disease, feet ulcers, eye and nerve problems, and high blood pressure.
The NHS reports that High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) , often named the ‘silent killer’, affects about 30% of the English population and if untreated can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. High Blood pressure can be reduced by altering the lifestyle by stopping smoking, lowering alcohol and caffeine consumption, and lowering weight via healthy eating and exercise. It can also be treated with some medication.
Good habits learned in childhood can ensure that key health factors such as eating varied foods as part of a healthy balanced diet and exercising become part of the daily routine. The British Nutrition Foundation recommends teaching children early about the various food groups that make up a nutritionally balanced plate, illustrated via the “Eat Well Plate”.
These food groups and their key benefits are summarised as:
-Carbohydrates: starchy foods which should form the base of what we eat and include potatoes, rice, bread, pasta. Some of these foods are available as white or wholegrain and health professionals advise to choose the wholegrain varieties such as brown rice, as they contain more minerals, vitamins and fibre.
-Protein can be found in meat, fish and beans and is essential for the body to grow and repair itself. Meat is a main source of B12, a vitamin that cannot come from vegetables. According to the National Institute of Health, B12 deficiency can lead to loss of appetite, memory loss and depression. B12 components can also reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Meat can be a source of vitamins, zinc and iron, but also of fat so it is advisable to buy lean meat or poultry. Oily fish such as mackerel and sardines contain essential omega 3 fatty acids that help to fight blockages in the arteries thereby reducing cholesterol and preventing heart disease.
-The dairy group comprises milk and dairy products, foods high in fat but which contain calcium, which helps to keep bones strong. Despite being high in calories fats have some beneficial roles such as helping to transport essential vitamins around the body. Fats come in two types. Saturated fat comes mainly from animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs and can increase cholesterol in the body which can lead to heart disease. Unsaturated fat products are found mainly in vegetables and plants such as nuts, olives and avocados and are beneficial to the body and help to lower cholesterol.
-Fruit and vegetables help to keep the body healthy as they are low in fat and are high in essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, potassium, as well as fibre which helps to reduce bowel cancer, as well as heart disease and stroke. The Department of Health recommends eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day to reduce these risks and has introduced a free piece of fruit or vegetable portion to every child in primary school aged between 4-6 years under the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme.
Findings in 2014 by the National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that too many people eat more than the daily recommended amount of sugar. Sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, but they are dangerous when added to food and drink such as biscuits, fizzy drinks, sweets and contribute to obesity and tooth decay.
To help children develop good eating habits early, parents can engage children in creative activities at home such as cooking demonstrations that can help children to explore and taste new foods,explore new colours and textures which can fuel excitement and interest in food. Children can be involved in the shopping experience,at the supermarket they can select their own fruit and vegetables. Children involved in these activities,or who eat at a table with others are more likely to try different foods which can lower the risk of becoming picky eaters.
The WHO recommends that children should undertake at least one hour a day of physical activity.
It is therefore important that parents find opportunities to incorporate active play opportunities in a child’s daily routine. The NHS advises parents to minimise the amount of time young children under five spend being restrained in a car seat or pram,or watching television.
It advises that in order to maintain a healthy BMI,small children under five should be physically active for three hours spread over the day. The guidance includes energetic activities for increased movement such as swimming,using the climbing frame,chasing games involving running e.g. hide and seek. Small children can be encouraged to free play before an evening meal rather than watching television. In addition parents can involve children with physical tasks around the home,for example with cleaning or gardening. Young babies can be involved in light activity at home:such as by encouraging babies to crawl,jump or roll. Parents can let a baby kick on a changing mat before a bath or after being changed.
A 2012 Health for England Survey reported that physical activity is important for preschool children as it increases bone and muscle strength,attention,and improves behaviour and achievement. However, children’s play is becoming increasingly restricted due to factors such as parents working later hours, lack of suitable outdoor play space and parent’s fears about children’s safety on the streets.
Some charities such as Change for Life and Play for England campaign to increase awareness of the benefits that play has for children, and campaigns to increase outdoor play spaces for children. They suggest that trips to the local park and adventure playgrounds are great outdoor play opportunities, particularly valuable in a modern, urbanised society. Their Street Play Project for example,campaigns to increase residential-led street play for children particularly in disadvantaged areas.
Reducing ill health is one the Government’s visions for children and families in the UK, who following the tragic death of Victoria Climbe put together a programme-Every Child Matters to bring together all agencies looking after children in their care to prevent ill treatment. It created legislation to promote children’s mental and physical health by bring together all agencies to improve outcomes for all children in their care. Physical activity is also at the heart of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Curriculum,one of the seven areas of achievement intended to help preschool children recognise the importance of physical activity in maintaining a healthy lifestyle by the time the reach the end of the curriculum.
Looking after the emotional aspects of life is also an important consideration of wellbeing, sitting side by side with eating healthy and staying physically fit. It is now largely accepted that what children become in their adult lives is to a great extent a product of their experiences in the early stages of their lives (Measuring National Wellbeing 2012). However research carried out by PHE in 2013 found regional differences in physical activity and wellbeing,with higher levels of obesity detected in deprived areas of low income. Issues such as poor quality of housing and material deprivation including toys and food can have a negative effect on a young person’s wellbeing.
These issues contravene some beneficial principles families should incorporate to promote a harmonious environment in the home where wellbeing can thrive. Two key principles are:
-Avoiding conflict within the home as this creates a negative atmosphere
-The consistency approach,if followed helps to develop reliability,trust and learning that actions have consequences.
In childcare settings it is essential to monitor and evaluate children’s development to ensure that they are not displaying signs of physical, social or emotional difficulties affecting their wellbeing. Equally, education practitioners can also help parents who need support with physical, emotional and economic problems impacting on their wellbeing, by offering access to parenting services such as the Triple P Program (Positive Parenting Programme) which claims that it helps lower parents stress,anger and depression. Courses include individual consultations with trained professionals and group sessions where parents can meet together in an encouraging and non judgemental environment where they can share experiences.
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In conclusion, the trend in modern society is for people to become less active, in particular children who are leading increasingly sedentary lives. Parents find it challenging to help children meet the recommended minimum of one hour a day of moderate exercise, as parents work increasingly longer hours,and outdoor play spaces are reduced in urbanised environments. Lack of exercise and high carb diets mean that children are more at risk of developing serious health difficulties in the future-obesity,heart disease,weakened bone structure and cancer. It is therefore important for parents to make a change since children who develop an active lifestyle and are introduced to a variety of physical activities are much more likely to continue that healthy lifestyle into adulthood. Governments also need to continue to prevent and promote good health as identified by the Every Child Matters and School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme.
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