The Asian Food Information Centre in collaboration with the International Life Sciences Institute Focal Point China held a Media Forum in Beijing on May 30th entitled "What Gifts for Our Children on Children's Day". The event was held in advance of Children's Day in China, and addressed the increasing rate of children's overweight and obesity in China and associated ill health and disease as result.
In big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents increased from 1% in 1985 to 12.3% in 2005. These figures are taken from a survey conducted by five government agencies, including the Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Public Health, and provide clear evidence of the rapid changes in health of China's children.
Research evidence indicates childhood overweight is partially driven by outdated beliefs of the older generation about child health, such as chubby=healthy. Families with higher levels of education, more disposable income and where 3 generations are living together are more likely to have overweight or obese children. This is very different to the situation in more developed countries, where families with lower incomes, and lower educational levels, are more likely to have overweight or obese children.
Professor Ji Chengye said in the media forum, "1 in 5 children in the survey were found to be overweight or obese. Chinese children live in an era of labor saving devices such as cars, the Internet and remote TV controls. This combined with school- related time pressures, is leading to children getting less exercise and getting fatter."
A study conducted by Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC) drew similar conclusions. The AFIC study investigated health and nutrition knowledge, attitudes and behavior of 1,815 children aged 10-12 in four cities (Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Manila) across Asia. 1 in 4 children in the survey was found to be overweight or obese, and amongst the boys, this figure rose to 1 in 3. The study also found that those who were overweight tended to eat out more often than their slimmer peers, spent more time doing sedentary activities at the weekend, such as using the computer and watching TV, and were more likely to skip breakfast.
The AFIC study also found children showed high levels of awareness of which foods contained the most sugar, fats or calories and understood that high energy foods, such as candies and fast foods were OK to eat occasionally, but not every day. However, the children surveyed were found to be less knowledgeable about the importance of physical activity. Furthermore many children were not achieving the recommended 60 minutes or more of exercise recommended for this age group by the US Council for Physical Education for Children. The findings that most of the children enjoyed physical activity but didn't feel they had enough time to do more, and that 90% reported that they liked their parents to take them to sports activities and to watch them play, indicates that parents could play an influential role in encouraging their children to engage in more physical activity and sports.
Helen Yu, Executive Director of the Asian Food Information Center, said "parental involvement is important. Children's habits are learned through observing others. Children as young as ten reflect the health habits of their family, and social environment. Parents can play a major role in helping children control weight gain and develop healthful lifestyle habits which reduce the risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease."
Research confirms that overweight and obese youths have an 80% greater chance of remaining overweight as adults and will consequently be at higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Overweight children are 3-5 times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke before they reach the age of 65 than children of normal weight, plus have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
The role modeling influence of parents is backed up by international research: A study from Norway for example, found that the probability of a teenager eating a low fat diet was twice as high if both parents also had low fat diets. Another study found that parental involvement significantly improved the eating and exercise behaviors of 8 -11 year-olds.
So what gifts for our children on children's day? Parents can inspire and encourage their children to enjoy a more healthy lifestyle through example: Acting as a role model - for example by engaging in physical activity with your kids, eating breakfast together, and preparing and eating a healthy dinner with kids, as well as avoiding smoking at home- this is the best gift a parents can give to their kids!
10 Tips for Young People on Healthy Eating and Physical Activity
Nice 'n easy - foods are not good or bad - there are only good and bad diets.
Any food can fit into a healthy diet - it's the amount and how often it's eaten that's important. Foods that are higher in fat, such as fried noodles, chips, chicken nuggets just need to be chosen less often and balanced with lower fat foods at other meals. And don't forget about moderation. If two slices of pizza fill you up, you don't need a third!
Work up a sweat
Vigorous workouts - when you're breathing hard and sweating - help your heart pump better, give you more energy and help you look and feel your best. Start with a warm up that stretches your muscles. Include 20 minutes of aerobic activity such as running, dancing or swimming. Then cool down with more stretching and deep breathing.
Breakfast - you can't start the day without it
We know that eating breakfast boosts concentration levels and attention. Studies show that eating breakfast may also help to control body weight.
Tip: Choose something quick and easy on weekdays such as cereal, or if you leave very early try take-away breakfast such as fruit and a roll.
Pump up the iron
Iron is important for concentration, schoolwork and physical activity. Best source of iron is lean red meat. Other sources are chicken, fish, green leafy vegetables. Your body absorbs the iron in animal foods far better than the iron in plant foods.
Tips: Orange and lime juice will increase iron absorption but tea and coffee reduce absorption
Drink plenty of fluid
You need at least 8 glasses of fluid a day - more when it's very hot or when you are exercising outdoors. Water is a good choice, but you can also choose other fluids such as juices and soft drinks occasionally.
It's easy to fit physical activity into your daily routine. Walk, ride a bike or jog to see friends. Take a 10-minute activity break every hour while you read, do homework or watch TV. Climb the stairs rather than taking the elevator.
Tips: Aim to do at least 30 minutes of these activities each day.
Snacks are a great way to refuel. Choose snacks from different food groups - a bowl of cereal with milk, an apple or some rice crackers. If you eat smart at other meals, biscuits, sweets and chips are OK for occasional snacking.
Tips: Avoid snacking and reading/watching TV/playing computer games at the same time, its too easy to eat when not hungry!
Boost that calcium
Growing bones and teeth need lots of calcium, especially during pre-teen and teen years when the rate of bone growth is very high. The best sources of calcium are milk and dairy foods such as cottage cheese, hard cheese, ice-cream and yoghurt, and tofus which contain calcium. Sesame seeds, millets and leafy vegetables are also useful sources.
Tip: Make sure you get enough calcium by taking three servings of calcium-rich food every day.
Don't miss out - join in physical activities at school
Whether you take a physical education class or do extra-curricula activities, these are a good way to feel good, look good and stay fit.
Eat more fruits and vegetables.
These supply carbohydrates for energy plus vitamins, minerals and fibre. Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables each day. A small glass of juice can substitute for one serving of fruit.