Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Obesity and nearsightedness are serious threats to children's health

By Cesar Chelala ( Updated: 2016-09-29 13:38

Obesity and nearsightedness are serious threats to children's health

Knowledge of nutrition has been added to textbooks in some schools in the country,helping prevent childhood and youth obesity.[Photos Provided To China Daily]

One of the drawbacks of the popularity of a Western diet in China is the increase in obesity and nearsightedness (myopia) among Chinese children. This is due, to a large extent, to the high sugar and other carbohydrate content in such diets. Because this poses serious risks to children’s health, special attention should be given to this problem and a set of measures should be immediately applied.

There is not one factor that explains the high rates of obesity among Chinese children, although there are several contributing factors with varying importance in different settings and circumstances. For example, many formerly poor families are over feeding their children, particularly when the grandparents are in charge of their care.

Among Chinese children, one of the most important contributing factors for obesity factors is the high consumption of foods rich in carbohydrates and high consumption of sugary drinks. Widespread advertising by food chains such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken has made Chinese children and adults very fond of the food provided by these outlets, which are usually rich in calories and poor in nutrition. Many Chinese children can now recognize the image of Ronald McDonald, although they are unable to read in English.

Physical inactivity is another important contributing factor, often associated with a significant increment in television viewing. It has been proven that each hour spent watching television is associated with a 1-2 percent increase in the prevalence of obesity among urban children. Because of economic necessity, many Chinese rural children are engaged in field work, and as a result are more active than urban children.

Children who are overweight and obese are at risk for several serious health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes, asthma and heart failure. It is important, therefore, to implement a series of measures aimed at increasing the level of physical activity among children both inside and outside school and conduct educational campaigns showing the risks of consuming high calorie foods and drinks.

Another serious problem is myopia among Chinese children and youngsters. . Some reports estimate nearly 30 percent of boys and more than 32 percent of girls aged 7 were myopic, a slight increase from the 2010 rates, and has now reached epidemic proportions.

While 60 years ago only 10-20 percent of the population was neartsighted, today close to 90 percent of teenagers and young adults are myopic. This problem leads to a slightly elongated eyeball that increases the risk of serious problems such as retinal detachment, cataracts and glaucoma.

Excessive reading and computer work seem to be associated with a higher risk for myopia. These excesses lead to less time engaging in sports and outdoor activities, which worsen the situation. As in many other areas of life, a good balance between study and outdoor activities and sports can reduce this risk. In myopia, as in obesity, parental influence and guidance are critical. The more they know about these risks and the more they make their children aware of these problems, the healthier their children will become.

Cesar Chelala is a public health consultant for several international organizations.

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