Only 12 years old, Josh Ng towers above his classmates at a staggering 1.70m tall, and weighing a mighty 91kg. Josh, who has a BMI of 31.5, loves the egg sandwiches filled with roasted char siew his grandmother makes for him most mornings. He also shares that Nasi Lemak and fried Bee Hoon are some of his favourites… for breakfast.
A child is considered overweight when his BMI exceeds 23, and obese when his BMI exceeds 27.5.
“He’s quite a big eater,” says Alan Ng, Josh’s father, who admits his son lacks portion control. “The amount he eats is quite huge and that’s where we try to control his food intake.” Mr Ng doesn’t think Josh’s current diet is ideal and feels that a good start for him would be to cut down on food quantity and to exercise frequently.
According to a study done by the Health Promotion Board (HPB), male students in upper primary have a higher probability of being overweight. In 2018, 1794 male students were found to be overweight, an increase from 1524 in 2015.
HPB’s Deputy Director Dr Veronica Tay who’s in charge of Student Health acknowledged that this presented a worrying trend, and is a cause of concern amongst public health experts.
“Weight gain stems from an energy imbalance which occurs over time and is usually a result of excessive food and drink intake and reduced physical activity,” says Dr Tay. “Over the years, there has been an increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity… This is worrying as overweight children tend to grow into overweight adults with all the health risks of diabetes, heart disease, and strokes.”
With the numbers gradually climbing over the past ten years, HPB has taken action by organizing compulsory school-based programmes such as the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme to promote better eating habits.
Another 12-year-old boy, Gerald Lee, is 1.56m and weighs 57kg. Although not technically obese, he is considered “severely overweight”, as indicated in his health report book.
Nonetheless, he still slurps a can of ice lemon tea every day, with each can containing about two tablespoons of sugar, together with oil-dense local delights like Roti Prata or Nasi Lemak during breakfast.
Senior dietician Joanna Tan who works at Sengkang General Hospital does not recommend this due to the high-fat cooking methods that increase the risk of obesity.
Instead, she recommends having “one bowl of wholegrain cereal with low-fat milk and some fruits” or “two slices of wholemeal bread with egg or a sliced cheese plus one cup of low-fat milk” for breakfast.
Gerald doesn’t see his weight as a problem. “My friend call me fat I also don’t care. They call me fat but I also (run) faster than them.” He shares that his top three food favorites are long bean (the only vegetable he enjoys), McDonald’s breakfast wrap with bacon and cheese, and fish and chips, which he enjoys for dinner at least once a week.
“Poor food choices have been shown to affect children’s ability to concentrate in school. Therefore, getting children to adopt healthy eating habits from young will help them continue having a preference for them as an adult,” says Ms Tan.
Josh seems determined to tweak his lifestyle. “I think I can try my best… even though exercising is tiring for me, I can just push myself and exercise more. When I see my favourite food, I can try not to eat so much to prevent myself from eating more than I need to.”