The old association that the chubby child is a healthy child is no longer worth the trouble, although grandmothers insist on believing in it. Overweight children are more at risk of obesity among adolescents and adults. The consequence of gaining weight is the early development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases.
Diet plays a fundamental role at all stages of life, especially in the early years, which are crucial for growth and development, shaping habits and maintaining health in adulthood.
When a baby is born, breast milk should be the only food for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding reduces mortality by up to five years by 13%, prevents diarrhea and respiratory infections, reduces the risk of allergies, diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, leads to better nutrition and reduces the risk of obesity. Although breastfeeding has increased in Brazil, its duration is still shorter than recommended. Two of three children under six months of age are already receiving a different type of milk, especially cow's milk, often with the addition of flour and sugar, and only one in three children is still receiving breast milk until they are two years old.
"Breastfeeding is the first practice to prevent childhood obesity. Then introduce healthy food when the child is 6 months old. And for older children, the key is to avoid eating ultra-processed foods. Before the age of 2, children should not eat sugar-rich foods or ultra-processed foods, because habits form at this age. Children need to know healthy food to make healthy choices later in life, "concludes Gisele.
Public health problem
Childhood obesity occurs when a child is overweight in relation to their age and height. The body mass index (BMI) ranges specified for children differ from adults and differ according to gender and age. Many factors contribute to weight gain, but the biggest villains are a poor diet and lack of physical activity associated with excessive screening hours and the environment in which children are put.
The 'Grow Health' program, which is part of the 'School Health' program, is one of the Ministry of Health's main strategies for preventing childhood obesity. Earlier this year, 4,118 municipalities joined the program and received R $ 38.8 million to implement health promotion measures. Next year, the transfer involves four goals: assessing the nutritional status of children, i.e. going to school to weigh and measure children; take actions to promote healthy eating and physical activity at school; and when identifying an overweight child at school, you should report to the USF so that the primary care team can offer care.
An inadequate diet and lack of physical activity are the main causes of childhood obesity, but the environment in which the child is put in also has a big impact. For the general food and nutrition coordinator of the Ministry of Health, Gisele Bortolini, it is necessary to protect the child from exposure and advertising of unhealthy food. "The family plays a key role in the choice of food offered to children, but we must be careful not to blame their parents," he warns.
From an early age, children consume a variety of healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, fresh or minimally processed foods, and are exposed very early to sweets, fried foods, fats and ultra-processed foods that can harm their health. "Ultra processed foods are industrial preparations that usually have little real food in their composition. If you have many names in the list of ingredients that you do not recognize, it is processed foods such as carbonated drinks, stuffed crackers and fries, "says Gisele.
"Children no longer eat rice and beans and eat more frozen, ready-to-eat products that are sold as very easy and practical, without the need for preparation."
Introducing healthy nutrition in the child's everyday life
Early weaning, low quality and poorly varied diets inhibit the development of children and contribute to the increase in childhood obesity. To avoid this situation, lawyer Yasmin Diirr, 26, mother of 5-year-old Gabriel Augusto, began to worry about the quality of the food she consumed before she got pregnant. He has a habit of reading the labels of the products he purchases, but the priority is fruit, vegetables, cereals and whole grains to prepare family food at home. She fed only Gabriel for almost six months, when she began to introduce natural foods to her diet. Since then, he ate the same meal as his family, and today, at the age of 5, he has no habit of consuming carbonated drinks, stuffed cakes, box juice, sausages and snacks. "I do not forbid it, but since it is followed by routine, it got used to it and does not miss it," says Yasmin.