RECENT media reports highlighted growing concern about the escalating prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents worldwide.

Childhood obesity has been well-documented and has serious adverse psychological, social and health consequences, particularly cardiovascular disease metabolic syndrome and associated mortality later in life.

Apart from the effects on our children’s health, childhood obesity also imposes substantial economic costs.

Obese adults have an increased risk for many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some forms of arthritis, and several cancers. Overweight and obese children are more likely to become obese adults.

In addition to current lifestyle, events during early life modulate later obesity risk, which is an example of metabolic programming. Apart from dietary management and physical activity, the prevention of obesity begins at birth through breastfeeding.

The diet during infancy plays a critical role in later in life risk for obesity.

Breastfeeding has been shown to have an impact on obesity throughout the life span, while also contributing to numerous other positive health outcomes.

Some of the key features of breastfeeding that might relate to the lower obesity risk could include behavioural factors, hormonal responses, bioactive factors in the milk, a lower energy intake, or a lower protein intake, all of which might have long-term effects.

Apart from reducing the risk of obesity later in life, it has been established that the duration of breastfeeding is inversely related to pediatric overweight.

Thus in the anti-obesity campaign: ‘Let’s Move’ by Michelle Obama, breastfeeding is identified as one of the 10 key action points to deal with the obesity crisis in America.

Despite these health benefits and its role in reducing obesity, the breastfeeding rate in our country is declining.

I hope the Health Ministry, as part of its strategy to manage the childhood obesity crisis, will work on strategies on increasing breastfeeding in Malaysia as this has a sustained impact on the obesity issue.

Some measures include actions by healthcare professionals to recommend human milk for all infants in whom breastfeeding is not specifically contraindicated, and to provide parents with complete, current information on the benefits and techniques of breastfeeding to ensure that their feeding decision is a fully informed one.

To breastfeed longer and more exclusively, mothers need balanced information to make feeding decisions, professional guidance in the hospital and at home, employer’s support to express breastmilk at work, supportive childcare and public acceptance for breastfeeding anywhere.

DR BALKEES ABDUL MAJEED,
Kuala Lumpur.

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