Bangladesh has been experiencing an epidemiological transition from communicable to non-communicable chronic diseases. While childhood under-nutrition is still highly prevalent in the country, there has been a steep rise in childhood obesity and overweight in the last 2 decades leading to double burden of malnutrition.
World Health Organisation (WHO) declared childhood obesity as one of the most serious public health challenges of 21st century as this problem is seriously affecting both the developed and developing countries. There will be 60 million cases of childhood obesity globally by 2020.
In Bangladesh, childhood obesity affects disproportionately among urban affluent families. Increased purchasing power parity (PPP) makes them able to avail cozy and relaxed lifestyles and thus vulnerable to obesity.
Evidence from recent studies suggests that the prevalence of childhood obesity ranges from 1% to 17.9% depending on the urban-rural settings, age-sex groups. A countrywide survey from 2009 conducted among school children found that obesity and overweight were greater among urban schools (5.6% and 10.6% respectively) compared to rural schools (1.2% and 8.6% respectively). On the contrary, prevalence of underweight children was much higher in rural schools than in urban schools (19.2% vs. 16.1%).
The emerging epidemic of childhood obesity is mainly attributed to dietary and lifestyle modifications, especially in urban areas. Fast-foods and high caloric beverages, reduced physical activities due to lack of playgrounds in schools and housing societies, widespread use of electronic gadgets by this tech-savvy generation are contributing to this modern epidemic. Parental history of obesity is also a risk factor.
As childhood overweight and obesity tend to follow through adulthood, in longer terms, there is increased risk of developing chronic illnesses e.g. hypertension, diabetes, cancer, heart attack, stroke etc. Obesity in young girls also gives rise to menstrual problems, sub-fertility and hypertension in pregnancy.
School based public health intervention programmes aiming to increase awareness and reduce the risk factors for overweight and obesity among children are crucial to combat this problem. Parental education on diet and physical exercise is also important in this regard. Innovative ideas and intervention research will guide us to take our arms up against future burden of obesity-associated chronic diseases.
N.B. This article was published in “The Daily Star” on Sunday, December 14, 2014. The link of the article is following: