Lebanon Combats Child Obesity

Published October 15th, 2018 - 08:03 GMT
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)

Recent estimates show as much as a third of Lebanese children and adolescents may be overweight or obese. In a bid to tackle a growing problem, caretaker Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani launched Sunday the first National Day for Combating Childhood Obesity at an event held at the ministry’s headquarters.

In a speech, Hasbani said the aim of designating a day to fighting childhood obesity is to raise awareness in Lebanon of the disease.

Posters displayed throughout the ministry listed 10 steps children can take to lead healthier and happier lives, promoting the importance of healthy eating, exercise and warm family relationships.

The ceremony, launched under the slogan “Together for better health,” also featured activities to that end, including athletic events, educational games and a theatrical performance that taught children about the dangers of obesity.

A number of health food companies and sports clubs sponsoring the initiative also set up stalls to promote their products.

Those who attended the event donned the campaign’s emblem: a yellow ribbon designed to look like a tape measure. The choice of yellow, the event’s organizers said, represents childhood.

The lightheartedness of the occasion, however, contrasts with reality on the ground.

A recent estimate from a 2017 World Health Organization survey of almost 6,000 school-age children in Lebanon found that one in four of the students surveyed was overweight and that more than 6 percent were obese. The study concluded: “The prevalence of obesity [in children] has increased in a continuous and alarming way, which calls for a rapid intervention.”

According to the WHO, people who are overweight or obese have “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.” More specifically, people are considered overweight if they have a body mass index or BMI – a figure derived from a person’s body mass compared with their height – of 25 or higher. They are considered obese if his BMI is 30 or higher.

Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, according to the WHO.

The National Day for Combating Childhood Obesity appears to be an earnest attempt by the Lebanese government to address this problem. Joyce Haddad, director of preventative health care at the Health Ministry, told The Daily Star that the ministry will also soon be announcing the launch of a national committee to implement a strategy to fight the disease.

Still, the country has a way to go to addressing childhood obesity and there are a variety of explanations for its prevalence. Lebanese American University dietician Amani Tarchichi attributed the problem to the changing face of motherhood, saying, “Childhood obesity is a problem nowadays because women are working and not cooking at home.”

This sentiment was echoed in a speech about the evolution of people’s health habits given by Haddad to a crowd of children and families.

“In the past, we used to walk everywhere, and our mothers would cook meals for the whole family.

“Now they drive us to school and buy our food from supermarkets.”

Increasing awareness of childhood obesity and improving education on healthy eating and physical activity are the aims of Lebanese NGO School Nutrition Association for Awareness and Change, which had a stall at Sunday’s event.

Greta Sahyoun, a pediatrician at SNAAC, told The Daily Star about the importance of healthy eating at school. “School is an important period in our children’s lives; they spend half their day there for nine months a year,” she said.

At a separate obesity awareness event held Thursday to mark World Obesity Day 2018, Paola Atallah, an endocrinologist and the president of the Lebanese Society of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Lipids, presented a much broader picture of the causes of childhood obesity.

She spoke about the lack of sport and exercise: “The children are playing with their phones and iPads,” rather than riding bikes or playing outside, Atallah told The Daily Star.

“Usually obesity among children is a result of bad habits since childhood. ... [and] there is also a lack of lifestyle education in Lebanon,” Atallah said.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

Copyright © 2019, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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