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Obesity amongst kids on the rise, health down

Obesity and stunted growth have increased in South African children because many families cannot afford nutritious food.

HEALA Nutrition Programme Manager Angelika Grimbeek attributed the rise to malnutrition and ultra-processed foods (UPFs). This is according to Health-E News.

She added: These households cannot feed their children. Ultra-processed, high-sugar, fat, and salt foods and drinks are cheap and readily available. Unfortunately, unhealthy eating starts early.

Formula and other breastmilk substitutes manipulate mothers’ rights to feed their babies. She explained that child-targeted marketing of UPFs and sugary drinks increases obesity rates as children grow up.

READ MORE: Toxic relationship with food

Stunting in children can lead to obesity, Grimbeek said. “Teenage girls are especially prone to obesity, which can lead to diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers in adulthood,” she said.

Most cannot afford healthy food.

In December 2021, the Consumer Price Index reported that over 12 million children under 18 receive Child Support Grants (CSG). The grant is R460, R285 below the Food Poverty Line of R744,96 per person.

Many families cannot afford nutritious food, let alone enough.

Dr. Portia Mutevedzi is a Witwatersrand senior epidemiologist (Wits). Her research includes the long-term Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance program, which examines all child deaths under five. Pseudo-autopsies using heart, lung, and brain tissue and clinical records determine death causes.

We have many undernourished children and babies underweight for their ages. This indicates slow growth. Child obesity is also rising. Obese and overweight kids are common in medium-income households. Mutevedzi said this affects children’s physical and mental development.

Mutevedzi said nutrition affects all aspects of child growth.

A child needs a certain amount of nutrients. Thus, a child’s diet without these components is affected.

Mutevedzi noted that eating too many nutrients can be harmful, too.

She added: “If a child eats too many carbohydrates, the body converts them into fat and stores it, causing obesity. Food nutrients affect muscle, immune, and brain growth. Spheres receive different nutrients.

We feed kids sugary cereals like cornflakes and milk. This gives them a sugar rush but no sustained energy for a child. They’ll be hyperactive but unfocused. When their sugar drops, their brain won’t have enough energy to function all day.”

SA obesity
13.5% of 6–14-year-old South Africans were overweight or obese, according to NHANES-1. This exceeds the 10% global schoolchildren prevalence.

Mutevedzi attributed SA’s high obesity rate to poor nutrition and exercise.

“Obesity can be corrected in younger children. Obese children under 10 are at risk of obesity-related diseases. She added, “Unfortunately, a significant portion of our primary school kids are obese and morbidly obese.”

Mutevedzi raised the misconception that chubby babies are healthy. She said society favors overweight babies over normal-weight ones.
We find fat babies struggling to walk cute. Mutevedzi said this mentality causes people to overeat, overfeed their children, and normalize unhealthy eating.

Mutevedzi suggested school feeding programs for malnourished children. Clinics and hospitals can also give malnourished children food supplements.

“Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto now evaluates each child’s nutritional status during appointments. The team considers food supplements, daily food intake, and caregiver nutrition knowledge. She said the nutrition team said educating parents and caregivers had a big impact.

She concluded parents lack nutrition education.

Prenatal nutrition can be addressed, Drysdale said.

Early nutrition and maternal health should begin during the first 1,000 days. This is a rare chance to develop optimally. She said adolescent interventions may allow catch-up.

HEALA created the food justice coalition to fix SA’s food system. Fixing it allows all South Africans, especially women and children, to access nutritious food. Food regulation regulates unhealthy food environments.

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