With sharp increase in obesity
Balanced nutritious diet to children vital as childhood diabetes proliferates

With the acute increase in obesity amongst children leading to a proliferation in childhood diabetes around the world, parents should ensure a balanced nutritious diet to their offspring to prevent long-term health risks, says Berthold Koletzko, a world-renowned Professor of Paediatrics from the University of Munich in Germany.

"Obesity amongst children was earlier considered a "US disease", but it is no longer so as the problem has spread and hit all the countries the world over", the top visiting medical specialist said in an interview with The Sunday Island.

"It is not a good idea to give sugar, particularly sugar drinks, to children because obesity or over-weight begins early in life", he pointed out. "Another factor is the intake of fat, which is condensed energy with more calories".

Prof. Koletzko was in Sri Lanka last week with his wife, Sibylle Koletzko, also a Professor of Paediatrics, who heads the Division of Paediatrics of the University of Munich, to jointly present a lecture session sponsored by Nestle Nutrition Institute at the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel in Colombo.

When a cookie is eaten, it is saturated but when a bottle of lemonade is consumed, the contents leave the stomach quickly, he explained. "It is best to avoid such sugar drinks which heap more calories".

Prof. Koletzko said that children grow very fast and they need the nutrition to support their growth. It is not only the weight but body tissues also develop very rapidly. That’s why nutrition is important for long-term health and well-being.

He said that giving infants salt, sugar and honey during complementary feeding programs them to eat more of these substances later in life. The intake of too much salt could push up their blood pressure and sweets could lead to diabetes and dental health problems as children grow up.

Responding to a question on the best time for mothers to begin weaning, he said that up to 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the fifth month in an infant’s life, the professor said.

"However, the World Health Assembly subsequently pushed this up to the seventh month basically to prevent infections such as diarrhea as poor populations do not have proper access to water and food".

Prof. Koletzko recommended breast feeding up to one year to reduce the risk of diarrhea and also boost the development of the child’s immune system. Clean water and food are vital factors during complementary feeding to prevent infections.

Giving a mixed diet – a variety of food to babies makes them develop taste and acceptance to a wide assortment of food. If more vegetables are given, they develop a greater preference to vegetables in later life, which reflects on their health and good living, the renowned German medical specialist noted.

Asked whether it is advisable to give fish or meat to babies during this transitional period, Prof. Sibylle Koletzko said it should be mix of both alternately as oil fish rich in Omega 3 helps develop the brain and the immune system and meat is also important as it is rich in iron and zinc.

She said that it’s not a question of whether one consumes carbohydrates or not that counts, but the energy in total where the body could find it is unable to cope with insulin production.

On cow’s milk allergy, she said the risk emanates from unprocessed milk. In Europe, 1% to 2% is affected by this allergy and the clinical picture is different. That’s why it is not advisable to wean before the fifth month as the risk of the allergy may increase.

"There is infant formula in the market now where cow’s milk is split in a special process and the hydrolyzed protein can reduce the risk of cow’s milk allergy", Prof. Sibylle Koletzko explained.

Berthold Koletzko is Professor of Paediatrics, Division of Metabolic Diseases & Nutrition Gastroenterology and Hepatology of the University of Munich. He has more than 678 publications to his credit and is also the editor of the most widely distributed German Language Textbook on Paediatrics. He has also received numerous global honours and awards.

Prof. Sibylle Koletzko is Professor of Paediatrics, Head, Division of Paediatrics. She is also the Secretary of the GI – Committee of the European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN).

They addressed the Scientific Conference on the theme ‘Recent Emerging Trends in Paediatric Nutrition’ on Nutrition and Protection: The Global Perspective in Weaning and Prevention of Paediatric Allergies: Role of Dietary Interventions in Infancy, respectively.

Around 200 medical specialists participated in the sessions in Colombo with video conferencing with paediatricians in Kandy and Galle.

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