Monday, October 31, 2016

Brunei - Ending childhood obesity

TAKE a look around, what you will see is what has seemingly become the new normal among children. It is alarming that in Brunei Darussalam, one out of two children from the age of five are either overweight or obese (a more severe form of overweight).

From 2008 to 2014, obesity among school children in Brunei Darussalam increased from 12 per cent to 18 per cent. This means that obesity rises by one per cent every year! If this issue is unresolved every single child in Brunei could potentially be obese in the near future.

Why is this of concern to us? As a result of obesity it is entirely possible that our children may have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

This is why the theme for World Obesity Day which is commemorated on October 11 every year, is ‘Ending Childhood Obesity’.

In Brunei Darussalam, obese children are increasingly being diagnosed with a range of health conditions that are mostly seen only in adults.

Some examples of this include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep disorders such as having difficulty breathing while sleeping (sleep apnea).

It is also worrying that some children have even died at a very young age from heart attacks.

The problems of childhood obesity are not just limited to physical illnesses but may affect their emotional and mental wellbeing.

Overweight and obese children are more likely to be bullied, feel socially isolated, have a high risk of depression and may experience high stress and anxiety levels.

Unfortunately, obesity in children and youth do not go away as they grow older. In fact, most people continue to gain weight as they age and obese children become obese adults.

Knowing that 62 per cent of adults in Brunei Darussalam are overweight and obese, this is a problem that we cannot ignore.

We should encourage our children to care about what they eat and how to treat their bodies well such as not eating a lot of sugar and being more active.

Being involved in fun exercise will uplift moods and eating healthily can make them grow into a healthy adult.

In Brunei Darussalam, fewer than five per cent of children eat the recommended serving of five portions of fruits and vegetables a day. It also found that 40 per cent of children aged five to nine drink sugar-sweetened beverages or soft drinks everyday and at the same time eating a lot of fast food.

Children should learn how important fruits and vegetables are to their growth and health in the long term. It is also crucial for them to understand that water is better to quench their thirst than sugary drinks.

We need to do something about this situation urgently. Unfortunately, for those seeking a magic pill, no single intervention can cure this.

Obesity prevention and treatment requires a whole-of-nation approach in which policies across all sectors take health into account – a “Health in All Policies” approach.

Thankfully, in Brunei Darussalam, we are beginning to see the first signs of change. Head down to Tasek Lama in Bandar Seri Begawan on a late afternoon to see it filled with families hiking and walking together.

Even the street food vendors are increasingly aware of reducing sugar in drinks, and more and more people are asking for healthy options in restaurants and supermarkets. Instead of obesity, we want to change the conversation and make being healthy normal again.

Health is everyone’s business and every individual needs to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.

Parents in particular have a crucial role to play here as children follow their parents’ behaviour. If parents are eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, drinking water rather than sweetened beverages and exercising regularly then children will be encouraged to do the same.

Any individual intervention for an obese or overweight child will not work without the full support of the family including parents, grandparents and caregivers.

Today, on World Obesity Day, no matter what your weight or where you are at your journey, promise yourself one action that you and your family can take to live healthier lives for the year.

Make sure that you can measure this action and tell others what your health goal for the year is. This could simply be walking 10,000 steps a day, or cutting out sugary drinks from your diet. It could be replacing dessert with a piece of fruit.

Encourage others to do the same. No matter who you are, or how much time you have, let us all do our own part and together we can build a healthier Brunei Darussalam.

Message by the Minister of Health, Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Zulkarnain bin Haji Hanafi on the occasion of World Obesity Day 2016

You can find older posts regarding ASEAN politics and economics news at SBC blog, and older posts regarding health and healthcare at IIMS blog. I thank you.

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