Obesity time bomb for Zim Children

PUBLIC Health experts have warned of an imminent obesity epidemic in Zimbabwean children, owing to multiple changes in the environment that promote high-calorie, poor quality dietary intake and minimal physical activity.

By Michael Gwarisa

While obesity was singled out as the biggest pending crises, the experts also warned of a rise in other Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as mental health disorders among other conditions linked to leading a sedentary lifestyle.

In an interview with HealthTimes, Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) Environmental Health Officer, Natasha Muziringa said the new NCDs epidemic will not spare even children from high density suburbs.

As a country, we are faced with so vast health changes amongst our youths. Another interesting factor is the issue of NCDs. I think as Zimbabwe, very soon, one of biggest challenge will be that of NCDs.

“If you look at most of our High Density Suburbs in particular, we no longer have play centres for children. That means that our children are now passive, they are mainly spending their time glued to the Television and their phones. That is not healthy. We risk having a generation of obese adolescents that will transform into obese adults,” said Muziringa.

She added that the NCDs epidemic in the younger generation will exert immense pressure on the country’s national purse and there will be need for sourcing additional financial resources to fight this crises.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) data on obesity, 39 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2020. Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016. Worldwide, obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.

In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese. 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2016, and 13% were obese. Most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight.

Dr Tsitsi Siwela, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Zimbabwe Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Focal-Person said there was need for new data to guide policy around NCDs in children in Zimbabwe.

“NCDs are increasing, it is now the new epidemic. We used to talk about infectious diseases, the likes of HIV, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria but now we need to also focus on NCDs like Hypertension, Diabetes, Obesity, mental health and all other kinds of NCDs,” said Dr Siwela.

Meanwhile, WHO says the fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Globally, there has been: an increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars; and an increase in physical inactivity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.

Changes in dietary and physical activity patterns are often the result of environmental and societal changes associated with development and lack of supportive policies in sectors such as health, agriculture, transport, urban planning, environment, food processing, distribution, marketing, and education.

Overweight and obesity, as well as their related noncommunicable diseases, are largely preventable. Supportive environments and communities are fundamental in shaping people’s choices, by making the choice of healthier foods and regular physical activity the easiest choice (the choice that is the most accessible, available and affordable), and therefore preventing overweight and obesity.

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