In an attempt to assess and ensure health of children worldwide, a battery of standardized measurement tests to monitor children's growth, motor development and nutritional status has been recommended by the World Health Organization.
It is hoped that this WHO initiative would enable health care workers to take appropriate measures to equalize both ends of the child health spectrum. At one end, there is desperate need to improve the health of malnourished children in the underdeveloped and developing countries. In the developed countries such as the United States, the concern is about over nourished children and the ever-increasing rates of childhood obesity that has reached alarming proportions.
The new WHO guidelines recommend BMI measurement for children from birth, up to the age of five years. This WHO announcement has raised mix reactions from doctors worldwide, who doubt the clinical utility of the Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement. The BMI tool is based on determination of the height-weight ratio to find out if an individual is underweight, overweight or obese. Issues have also been raised as to the need for young children to be subjected to BMI assessment.
While BMI provides an adequate representation of the average body fat in a specific population, it ignores factors such as muscle loss or muscle mass, which play a crucial role in determining the weight of an individual. BMI measurement can therefore be misleading says Dr. David Heber of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California.
However, Dr. Wendy Miller medical director at the Beaumont Weight Control Center in Royal Oak has welcomed the WHO recommendation and further feels that it would encourage parents to closely monitor their child's health. Concerns about BMI can prompt parents to seek a pediatric consultation, to decide on an appropriate action plan. The focus of parents should be on provision of adequate nutrition and promoting good activity habits rather than dieting, she warned.
Obesity has sadly become a public health issue in nearly all the industrialized countries. Alarmingly, a study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health specialists has revealed that there has been a 50% underestimation of the obesity rates in the US. As rightly remarked by Mervyn Deitel, 'The commonest form of malnutrition in the western world is obesity', obese children are now becoming a common sight, though not a desirable one! At a global level, obesity accounts for nearly 2.6 million premature deaths every year.
Nothing, not even reports of scientific studies which highlight the obese children are more likely to be bullied by their peers or obesity increases the risk of developing diabetes at an early age seems to deter these children from indulging in high fat diet, sugary drinks, two major contributors to childhood obesity. A new study conducted among teenagers in Australia has now showed that those who drank a can of soft drink a day added 6.4 kilograms to their existing body weight.
Low levels of physical activity; coupled with craze for television and video games is yet another reason for childhood obesity. There has been a drastic change in the family lifestyle, leading to irregular meal times and an inclination to junk food or the so-called convenience foods.
The food and beverage companies however are reaping the maximum benefit out of this present situation. Most of the world's top rated food and beverage companies such as Mars, Nestle, Cadbury Schweppes Plc, Coca-Cola Co, Unilever, McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut and KFC conveniently remain passive about the obesity crisis. Despite the targets set by the WHO for effective prevention of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, there has been no major change in the fat, salt and sugar content of the food items marketed by these food giants.
McDonalds, which had previously assured customers to reduce the fat content of its foods, recently announced introduction of a jumbo-sized version of the Big Mac (40% larger than the regular one), compromising on its promise of healthy meals and slimmer portions in their menu. Perhaps, the advertising media has concentrated more on earning profit rather than promotion of good health.
Taking into consideration the concerns of numerous doctors, dieticians, nutritionists and other health officials, perhaps it is time for the media to project the reality, also proving that bad publicity is one of the sure shot ways of getting these companies to regard the health of their consumers seriously. Educating young children about the consequences of obesity and encouraging them to be trim, happy and fit is the only practical measure to reverse childhood obesity.
Debates and arguments on one side, at this juncture, it is very obvious that if radical changes are not instituted to change the present trend, we would soon have to witness a situation where the future generation would have a lower life expectancy compared to the previous ones.