Muscat: Medical authorities fear child obesity is widespread in Oman, as a study shows 667,809 Omanis are overweight and, of great concern, 445,206 are obese.
The figures are contained in a report published in the medical journal by Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), which states that 30 per cent of the Omani population is overweight and 20 per cent is obese.
According to the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NSCI), there were 2,226,033 citizens registered in the country, as of March 2014.
"Considering the fact that half of the population is below 20 years of age, these figure might be pointing fingers at the prevalence of large-scale child obesity in the country," Dr Ritu Lakhtakia, Head of the Department of Pathology, College of Medicine & Health Sciences, Sultan Qaboos University, wrote in a medical journal published by SQU.
According to the Directorate General of Civil Status, there were 705,156 children under 14 years of age registered in 2013. Yet increases in obesity among children might be occurring, despite a ban on chocolate, sweets, corn balls, chips and cold drinks in several school canteens, in a bid to combat obesity.
In the article, "Looming Epidemic of Childhood Obesity: A time to Fight Back", Dr Ritu Lakhtakia wrote that medical diseases that are proven to be associated with obesity range from hypertension, diabetes, and gall stones to cancer.
"We generally perceive these as middle-age problems, but now we are witnessing that my patients are getting younger," said K. P. Raman, Director and the Chairman, Al Hayat Polyclinic. Doctors at private hospitals attribute the spread of obesity to the popularity of TV meals, too much time on computer games and not exercising.
"Lack of exercise or activity has expanded children's waistlines, making them prone to a lifestyle that attracts diseases and health problems. They may look cute and chubby, but over-eating and zero physical activity leads to childhood obesity," said Medical Director, Atlas Hospital, Ruwi, Dr Rajagopal T. Naganathan.
Arteries around the heart often become blocked at age 60. "But if you are overweight and obese, this blockage will start early," Raman said, adding that 30 to 40 per cent of his patients are either overweight or obese.
The SQU report also said that with obesity beginning early, authorities are rewriting medical textbooks and will need to change health planning and policy to cater to this new epidemic.
"Often ignored, both by health professionals and society, is the psychological effect on the growing child," the report said.
Those who are overweight sometimes retreat from vigorous athletics and turn to 'comfort' food to temporarily ease the hurt, which initiates a vicious cycle that aggravates weight gain.
"Adolescent girls can adopt self-inflicted food restrictions, anorexia nervosa, that can, in rare instances, be fatal. The most severe outcomes of being over-weight is the necessity to impose diets and even surgery in extreme cases," the report added.
Dr Rajagopal T. Naganathan blamed these problems on sedentary lifestyles, poor eating habits and lack of exercise, which can cause serious hypertension, diabetics and acute heart problems. "Genetic and familial causes or medical diseases and related medications, constitute a very small group," Ravi Kumar, another doctor said.
"It is worth emphasising, that traditional Omani food habits provide the right balance of quantity, quality and timing of food intake," Kumar said.
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