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| 16 December, 2017

Parents in UAE are 'BMI blind' when it comes to their children

Some parents don't know even know what BMI meant, or attributed their child's weight to 'puppy fat'

Eight-month-old Santiago Mendoza sits at a clinic for the obese in Bogota March 19 ,2014. 
image used for illustrative purpose

Eight-month-old Santiago Mendoza sits at a clinic for the obese in Bogota March 19 ,2014. image used for illustrative purpose

REUTERS/John Vizcaino
Often, parents mistake the early signs of a child becoming overweight to the phenomenon of 'puppy fat'.


Several parents in the UAE are prone to 'BMI blindness' when it comes to their children, while one out of five do not even know what Body Mass Index (BMI) is, a study has found. BMI blindness is when parents are unaware or are in denial of their child's unhealthy BMI.

The King's College Hospital London in the UAE announced, earlier this week, the results of a study it commissioned to assess awareness levels of parents in the emirates around child obesity, with a focus on BMI n particular, their children's eating habits, as well as their perception of puppy fat.

The study is part of an effort to better understand the factors responsible for the rising incidence of child obesity in the UAE.

Despite parents' wanting the best for their children's health, the study observed that several parents may be affected by BMI blindness. Additionally, nearly one in five parents (98 out of 500) did not know what BMI meant.

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In fact, fewer than a third of surveyed parents (140 out of 500) know their child's BMI and, of them, 72 per cent (101 out of 140) think their child's BMI matches the recommended BMI for his or her age, while only 28 per cent of parents (39 out of 140) admitted that their child has an unhealthy BMI.

The study, conducted in November, surveyed 500 females and males who represent a mix of UAE nationals, Arab, Asian and Western expatriates and have children, with most of their offspring being between the ages of 0 and 10 years.

"We don't know the full scale of the problem of BMI blindness globally or locally. However, this study indicates that some parents struggle with the concept of unhealthy BMI or to recognise the early signs that a child is overweight," said Dr Gowri Ramanathan, acting chief medical officer at King's College Hospital London in the UAE.

Often, parents mistake the early signs of a child being overweight with the so-called 'puppy fat', common among younger children. Puppy fat is known to disappear as children grow up, usually in the pre-adoloscent ages between by 10 to 11 years.

According to the World Health Organisation (Who), over 60 per cent of the children who are overweight before puberty will also be overweight in early adulthood.

The survey further reveals that over three quarters (63 out of 82) of the surveyed parents who have a child between the ages of 11 and 17 years, think their child will shed that puppy fat if he or she is a little overweight.

In other words, these parents do not recognise that their children, if they are a little overweight, are at a high risk of being or becoming overweight or obese in their early adulthood years.

"If not properly identified, what could appear as the cute 'puppy fat' can constitute a high risk to the child, and impair his or her health later in life," she said.

Of the 500 surveyed parents, only 15 per cent know that a child's puppy fat converts into real weight by the ages of 10 and 11.

Neil Buckley, CEO of King's College Hospital London in the UAE added: "The study really helps to know where increased awareness is needed. The objective of studies like this is absolutely not to place the blame on parents, but to understand where the gaps lie and how we can help parents face those challenges best."

Forty-two per cent of surveyed parents (208 out of 500) don't have a trusted family medicine consultant (also known as a GP).

For this, they cite numerous reasons, such as not having found a doctor they trust yet or like, but the majority alarmingly claim they think visiting a family medicine consultant is a waste of time, especially when they could directly visit a specialist.

"What we need to help people and their families understand is that the family medicine consultant will act as their health champion, and be with them throughout their journey to better health. He or she will know their family history and lifestyle habits, be able to address issues that may not be apparent to parents, and will therefore be able to safeguard against child obesity and other chronic conditions," explained Buckley.

There are more than 41 million overweight or obese children worldwide, and the epidemic is estimated to reach 70 million children by 2025.

In the UAE, curbing the rising prevalence of child obesity is amongst the top priorities of the government authorities, healthcare providers and insurers. The recently held bu Dhabi Childhood Obesity Forum, held on December 10-11 in the capital, also discussed the next steps to be taken to address the epidemic.

Dr Prabhakar Patil, specialist pediatrician, Medcare Women and Children Hospital, said: "Obesity refers to excess fat in the body. In children, more than 95th percentile of BMI for age and sex is considered obese. In adults, BMI =30kg/m2 are obese. The ideal BMI for children should be bet-ween 5th to 85th percentile for age and sex. A BMI between 85th and 95th percentile for age and sex is considered overweight," he said.

He said that children with obesity can face problems like high blood pressure, asthma, liver problems, sleep apnea (which makes the child stop breathing for a short period during sleep), joint pain, back pain, increased risk of diabetes malleus. "To help your child get to a healthy weight, you need to help him eat healthy foods and be more active," he added.

Safety recommendations when flying with small kids during holiday season

With the start of the holiday season, many families will be planning to travel with young children. MedAire and its parent company International SOS issues recommendations for safer airline travel with an infant. The recommendations are based on the findings of a study using five years of data from tracking in-flight medical emergencies.

MedAire's aviation medical expert, Dr Paulo Alves, and group medical director of International SOS Dr Neil Nerwich, in collaboration with Dr Alexandre Rotta and the University Hospital Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, examined MedAire's in-flight medical events (IFME).

The research evaluated over 114,000 IFMEs from January 2009 through January 2014. More than 10 per cent of these events involved children (newborn to age 18).

Dr Alves comments: "Of the cases involving children requiring medical help, majority were the result of a pre-existing medical condition or health problem, more than three per cent of cases involved an injury occurring during the actual flight.

"Of those cases, 35 per cent involved children under the age of two. The most common injuries were burns, contusions and lacerations, which were most commonly caused by spilled hot beverages or soups, followed by falls from the seat involving lap infants. The good news is that there are some simple precautions that parents can take to prevent or reduce in-flight illness and injury," he said.

Tips for parents

> Ensure children are healthy for travel

> Come prepared: Always keep the medications in your carry-on luggage.

> Location: Choosing the right seat is important.

> Take turns keeping children occupied

> If you do have an emergency, stay calm: Ask the flight attendant for assistance.

How to keep your child healthy

> Have your child eat five servings of fruits or vegetables each day. If your child does not like vegetables or fruit, start slowly

> Limit your child's "screen time." Screen time includes watching TV, playing video games no more than one hour a day of screen time

> Have your child do physical activity for at least one hour per day, activities like sport, dancing, or playing outside

> Do not give your child any sugary drinks

> Avoid bringing unhealthy food into your home

> Make sure your child gets enough sleep

> Have everyone in the family eat healthier and be more active, even those who have a normal weight

Results of the survey of 500 parents in the UAE

>1 in 5 parents did not know what BMI means

>1/3 of surveyed parents know their child's BMI

>72% think their child's BMI matches the recommended BMI

>28% parents admitted that their child has an unhealthy BMI

>15% parents knew that a child's puppy fat converts into real weight around the ages of 10 to 11

>42% of parents don't have a trusted family medicine consultant

>87% of parents did not know that diet contributes to 80 per cent of a child's BMI

Nutritional values

28% of parents do not read nutrition labels.

Reasons are, because they either:

> 43% Don't understand the nutritional values on them and don't know what to look for

> 12% Don't think the values are important

> 36% Don't think those values affect whether a food is healthy or not

Fat home truths

Forget BMI and other body data, parents should lead healthy lives and be examples if children are to stay fit and healthy. This means avoiding junk food, exercising, sleeping well, coping with and beating stress. We are aware of healthy lifestyles but don't follow them because we don't have the time to spare or are simply lazy. Kids are unwittingly becoming victims in this battle of the bulge which we are fast losing at home. What a shame.
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