Child Obesity Becoming a Growing Problem in Thailand

October 09, 2019
Without even looking at any statistics, it is plain to see that many youngsters in Thailand are super-sized compared to previous generations. What has become a big problem health-wise is only becoming bigger over time.


A Weighty Problem

A recent survey by the Office of Private Education Commission (OPEC) and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation found an incidence of obesity among high school students at a startling 36%, with 19.6% of primary-age kids surveyed reportedly obese. It was also found that 60% of those surveyed had high blood lipids too, a contributing risk for developing diabetes.
The Department of Health, meanwhile, found 9.1% of children under the age of five were overweight, with obesity evident in 13.1% of kids aged six to 14. Whatever the exact figures on obesity are, the accepted view is that Thailand ranks second in Asia in terms of overall population obesity, topped only by Malaysia, with adults in Thailand also battling the bulge.


Government Action in 2019

A government target has been set for 2019 to help tackle the issue of children in Thailand being overweight as well as not being tall enough for their age. The aim is to achieve a healthy weight and height in 68% of children.
Awareness of the importance of nutrition and exercise is essential, and part of this is understanding the nutritional issues negatively impacting children’s health. Childhood obesity, once affecting urban and rural youngsters equally, seems to now be far more prevalent in Bangkok.


Bumrungrad Hospital Tackles Childhood Obesity

The Nutrition Support Team at Bumrungrad International Hospital is seeing an increase in young patients, and their parents, needing guidance to combat obesity. Of course, obesity leads to a higher risk of diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. Offering an interactive and engaging style, the team can make learning about nutrition and setting out a nutritional plan both highly informative and interesting.
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Measuring Obesity

There are different methods of measuring obesity. In Thailand, traditionally children’s weight-for-height results have been used as an indicator to define what is considered overweight and obese. Another measurement is to check Body Mass Index (BMI), calculated using height and weight too as well as gender, and plotted on a BMI-for-age chart. Research suggests that women have more body fat than men, with Asians having more body fat than Caucasians too. For this reason, the line between being overweight and obese is lower in Thailand than in other countries. In general, in terms of percentile, > 95th equals obese, 85th-95th equals overweight, 5th-85th is considered normal and < 5this regarded as underweight. Accurate measurements are vital, and getting confirmation that a child is obese rather than overweight is important before a food and exercise action plan is put in place.


Why Obesity is Rising

Obesity rates are expanding for a variety of reasons:
  • Parents have more disposable income yet busier lives, with greater availability of food outlets than ever before. As GDP has risen in Thailand so too have obesity rates. There is perhaps less of an emphasis on home-cooked meals and a greater temptation to eat out, ordering dishes that are higher in fat, sugar, salt and calories.
Nutrition Support Team Tip: Batch cooking and freezing dishes saves time. It is also a good idea to learn a few quick and easy recipes that are healthy and don’t require lots of ingredients or time to prepare.
  • Bangkok has become a haven for fast-food restaurants while street-food vendors still line the streets selling deep-fried snacks, often using palm oil. Today’s Asian kids are getting a taste for western convenience foods too, from burgers to pizzas and fried chicken. At the same time, there is a growing fashion for classic Asian dishes to include lots of melted cheese, from ramen soups to barbeques. Meanwhile, drinks such as bubble teas with lots of sugar are a food trend too.

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Nutrition Support Team Tip: Get out of the shopping malls and, whenever possible, out of the main city streets, enjoying healthy pursuits away from endless temptation. There are a growing number of vegan and clean-food eateries in Bangkok which can help kids learn about nutrition too.
  • Lack of nutritional understanding and food awareness means that kids, and their parents, don’t know what they are supposed to be eating and, at the same time, don’t know what they are eating. There is a big disconnect that is only made worse by the sheer number of food adverts, restaurants and take-away options, not to mention the glut of delivery possibilities, which has risen tremendously even in the last couple of years.
Nutrition Support Team Tip: Seek out information that helps youngsters connect health with diet. A great place to visit is the Thai Health Promotion Foundation in Suan Phlu Park near Sathorn Road, which takes a holistic approach to health, with activities, events and exhibits. Beyond diet, healthy eating is about psychology, mindset and emotional well-being too.
  • Smartphones and sunshine are an activity-killing combination that leads many youngsters to enjoy more screen time than ever before, while avoiding doing too much exercise outdoors to keep out of the heat and the humidity.
Nutrition Support Team Tip: Exercise that is fun, followed by a healthy lunch, can instill the idea of exerting energy and refueling in kids rather than eating for the sake of it. A digital detox can be healthy for kids’ minds too, while there are plenty of indoor spaces for youngsters to run around in the city too. Swimming is a great way for children to forget about their phones and tablets and keep cool too.
  • Diets aren’t rich enough in fiber, which is essential to guard against obesity and metabolic syndrome. Consuming dietary fiber can also promote ‘good’ bacteria to grow in the colon, which helps prevent unhealthy changes in the intestines, according to a 2018 University of Georgia study.
Nutrition Support Team Tip: Be clued-in about fiber-intake recommendations per day, which are 19 grams for toddlers ages one to three, 25 grams for kids ages four to eight, and 26 grams and 31 grams daily for girls and boys, respectively, ages nine through 13. Good sources of fiber include a baked sweet potato with the skin on, green peas, apples and edamame beans.
Obesity is a nutrition issue with confidential and practical support offered at Bumrungrad International Hospital for outpatients and inpatients of all ages.
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