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Hidden Danger - Parents urged not to hurt the children with food over Christmas season

Published:Sunday | December 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Obesity in children is a growing concern. - File
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Tyrone Thompson, Staff
Reporter

Ham, cake, sorrel, pork and other goodies are
among the food of choice which make Christmas special for children, but
health professionals are urging Jamaicans to go easy on the servings to
protect the well-being of these young ones.

As more
Jamaican children are being diagnosed with lifestyle-related illnesses,
unhealthy food choices this Christmas could come back to bite your child
in the new year.

Figures obtained by The
Sunday Gleaner
from the Ministry of Health showed that 330
persons below the age of 20 sought medical treatment for the
lifestyle-related illnesses of diabetes and hypertension in 2013. That
included 125 persons who were diagnosed with these illnesses for the
first time.

The figures were similar to those recorded
in 2012, when 125 new cases of diabetes and hypertension were recorded
in persons below the age of 20. That moved the total number of young
people treated for those illnesses in 2012 to 226.

For
Kirk Bolton, president of the Jamaica Association of Professionals in
Nutrition and Dietetics, the consistency of the reported cases proves
that Jamaicans are not paying enough attention to the dangers of an
unhealthy lifestyle by their children.

"The trend is
clearly showing that these people are still practising this unhealthy
lifestyle. They are still not doing a lot of physical activities that
would help to curtail the incidences of diabetes and hypertension, which
are a direct result of obesity," Bolton told The Sunday
Gleaner
.

TIME TO BE
PROACTIVE

He argued that this Christmas is the right
time for parents to become more proactive in ensuring that their
children develop healthy eating habits, particularly when they are faced
with a lot of food.

"We're not saying you can't give
your children the food that we are accustomed to, but what we call for
is moderation, so even though they might love ham, don't give them the
ham every day, or try to reduce the amount of sweet sorrel drinks or
sodas, along with the sweet Christmas cakes."

Bolton
argued that simple alterations could be made to the traditional Jamaican
diet that would augur well for better health among young persons or
those suffering from lifestyle-related
illnesses.

"It's more costly to treat hypertension and
diabetes than to avoid it, because preventing it doesn't require major
changes in diet," said Bolton.

"For example, instead
of giving your children white bread, give them brown bread; instead of
rice every day, prepare a sweet potato salad, which has a lot of fibre;
instead of letting them drink the sodas and the sweet drinks, give them
water."

Bolton is also suggesting changes in diet,
such as eliminating fried foods and using coconut oil when cooking. He
said parents needed to insist that their children engage in more
physical activity while they are enjoying the Christmas break from
school.

"We have always advised persons to take in at
least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. It doesn't mean you have
to send them to the gym or the playing field to run up and down, but let
them do some housework, let them take the stairs if they go out;
instead of hiring a gardener to do the yard work, send them to do it,
the physical activity is going to be good for
them."

Dr Shane Alexis, president of the Medical
Association of Jamaica, is all for the idea of more physical activity
for the children during the Christmas break as this is critical for good
health, but he is also urging parents to use the holiday period to
initiate healthy practices to their children.

"That's
why we have to pay close attention to managing childhood obesity and
preventing it," urged Alexis.

"For Christmas, I would
encourage parents and persons staging parties or events for children to
refrain from just putting out sweets and sweet drinks, but to start
introducing them to fruits and putting out carrots or a salad and water
for refreshment," added Alexis.

The medical doctor
noted that children who develop these lifestyle diseases will not only
have to live with them for their entire life, but could also face other
physical and social problems because of their
illnesses.

"Persons who are diagnosed with diabetes
and hypertension during childhood are at a greater risk for developing
complications - which could range from renal failure, decreased visual
activity and cardiovascular disease - than adults who are diagnosed with
the disease," said Alexis.

"On the mental side, when
these sick children see other children doing things that they are not
able to do, it might lead to them getting depressed and their
socialisation can be
affected."

tyrone.thompson@gleanerjm.com