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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

A big load to bear

Posted: 15 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

An unhealthy family lifestyle is one of the main contributors to a rise in the incidence of obesity among children.

ADIWAYU Ansar Zainuddin has been overweight all her life. She was bullied as a child, and wallowed in depression in college because of her weight issues.

"At one point, I just wanted to stay home all the time. I wasn't comfortable with my appearance and I didn't have any nice new clothes I could fit into. I had to keep wearing the same old pair of jeans, because I just couldn't get a new pair," recalls Adiwayu.

It didn't matter to those who teased her that she was born weighing almost 5kg – roughly twice the average weight of a newborn. Her mother had gestational diabetes, a condition in which women without previously diagnosed diabetes exhibit high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. Women with this condition are more likely to deliver macrosomic, or big, babies.

"I've been big ever since the day I was born. When I was 10, I had already hit 70kg. All the women in my family are on the larger side. It could be due to genetics but I think it was also the kind of food we consumed. Processed food and fast food were a big part of our diet.

"We were also taught to finish whatever was on our plates. It's a good habit to have, but if there's a lot on your plate, then you're bound to eat more," says Adiwayu, now 37.

She has accepted her weight battles, but she is now also concerned for her three children, aged six, four and two.

Like her mother, Adiwayu had gestational diabetes during her three pregnancies. The human resources manager is concerned that her three children, who were all born macrosomic, have higher risks of becoming obese and developing diabetes later in life. Her first and third child are of normal weight, but the second one is starting to have weight issues.

Adiwayu's family's weight concerns are becoming increasingly common here. Childhood obesity affects one in seven children in Malaysia. Nearly half a million children below 18 are overweight, according to the 2011 National Health and Morbidity Survey statistics, while 2.6 million adults are obese.

Seeing obesity as a disease

Around the world, obesity is the fifth leading risk for global deaths and a major risk factor for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Wan Noraini Isahak, who has a family history of obesity, is concerned that four out of her six grandchildren are already showing signs of being overweight. She is shown here with her youngest grandchild, aged two.

Wan Noraini Isahak, who has a family history of obesity, is concerned that four out of her six grandchildren are already showing signs of being overweight. She is shown here with her youngest grandchild, aged two.

"People just don't see obesity as a problem. It's not treated as a disease because you don't take medication for being overweight. Some think that it's ok to be that way and that it's merely a cosmetic issue. Over the years, the country has made great efforts to raise awareness on obesity. The only thing we haven't done is to curb temptations," says dietitian and senior manager at the Dietetics and Food Services department at Institut Jantung Negara (IJN) Mary Easaw.

"Food is easily attainable anywhere, anytime now. More often than not, food that is cheap is also of low quality and with high fat content.

"In families where both parents are working, ordering take-outs are often seen as the more convenient choice and most go for value-for-money options. At the end of the day, it's all about making better choices – even if you have to eat out, you can still make a choice between the healthy and the not-so," says Easaw.

Adiwayu does not want her children to grow up overweight because she does not want them to go through the bullying and insecurities she went through. Though she keeps a close eye on what her children eats, Adiwayu admits that it is all too easy to give in to the many temptations around.

Adiwayu's dietery staples include nasi lemak, tosai, roti canai or capati for breakfast, mixed rice or fried noodles for lunch and homecooked meals of rice and side dishes of meat and vegetables for dinner. Despite her health concerns, she says giving up deep-fried food has been hard.

"In my line of work, I go for a lot of trainings and they always have tea breaks in between the sessions. I think that's one of the main contributors to my weight gain," she adds.

Adiwayu has tried different diets to lose weight, and has even considered going for a gastric bypass surgery to shed some pounds. But her husband has advised her against surgery because he says he likes her the way she is.

It has also been challenging to inculcate healthy eating habits in her children.

"I'm careful when it comes to my children. I try my best to keep them away from anything that is too sweet or oily. My husband, on the other hand, thinks that it's ok for them to have junk food once in a while. I want to be a good role model for my children but sometimes I too give in to temptation," she says, admitting to allowing her children to eat fast food and snacks between meals.

When it comes to managing a child's dietary intake, Easaw warns parents against giving in to their child's every whim and fancy.

"Parents are responsible for the overall wellbeing of their child. Nutrition is important. In the olden days, we ate whatever our parents prepared for us. Nowadays, we have situations where the children dictate the family menu and parents willingly meet those demands, even if it means serving less healthy food options, to ensure their children do not go hungry," Easaw shares.

However, parents shouldn't also be too rigid, says Easaw. "Completely denying your children fast food isn't necessarily healthy. For one, they may just have it behind your back. I have a teenage daughter and what I do with her is this: if there's a new fast food product in the market and she asks for it, I'll let her try it once so that she knows what it's all about. The next time around, she'll just have to settle for a healthier choice. And I find that even with fast food, there is always the healthier option available."

For those who find that they do not have the time to cook daily, a good solution would be to prepare their meals in advance.

"If weekends are the only time you have for cooking, you can try preparing a few simple dishes then putting them in the freezer with a use-by date. You can just defrost the portions over the week and serve it with rice," she suggests.

Get moving

While Adiwayu is aware that an exercise regime can help tackle her weight issues, she is guilty of almost always preferring to "sit at home especially after a long day at work." Indeed, more and more families have adopted a sedentary lifestyle in favour of an active one – in essence, anyone who walks less than 5,000 steps a day is leading a sedentary lifestyle, which could be due to hectic working schedules, the "couch potato" syndrome and dependence on digital devices.

Easaw notes that several nations are addressing this rising epidemic of obesity. Singapore – as part of its targeted strategy to engage the working population – had introduced a 12-week weight loss programme in 2009 to help individuals lose weight in a healthy way and sustain it. The programme included nutrition workshops, physical activity sessions, fitness assessments and incentives.

By the end of the 12th week, 99.6% of the 285 participants recorded an improvement in their fitness index and 93.6% lost weight.

Easaw feels that giving people incentives will motivate them to be active. "At work, I do a lot of walking and hauling in the food ingredients and standing as I chop vegetables and fruits. I sweat all day. Asking me to work out after work would be pure torture – anytime I have left for resting, I will rest," says cook Wan Noraini Isahaktm, 50, who is not motivated to exercise even though her weight has led to health issues. At 46, Wan Noraini was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. She is also taking medication for high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Her husband, Mohd Noor Hitam, 62, also has the same ailments and has suffered two different strokes – the first caused a bout of memory loss; the second, partial lower body paralysis, which he has since recovered from.

Two out of their five children are currently obese; one of them, aged 30, suffers from early onset of hypertension. Four of their grandchildren are showing signs of being overweight.

As a cook, Wan Noraini is well aware of the need to favour healthy food preparation methods over matters of taste, but they still like their nasi lemak and ayam goreng (fried chicken). Their battle with weight, as Wan Noraini sees it, is due to genetics as well as a lack of exercise.

"My twin boys are the only ones in the family who are of a healthy weight. They are very active in sports and play a lot of futsal. The rest of us have a lot of catching up to do. I don't know what else we can do except change our lifestyles completely."

Vigilant all the time

Posted: 15 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

In the fifth of six articles on child safety, families who have lost, and then found their children, share their experiences.

THE trauma of being abducted in a car-jacking has diminished over the years, but *Kelly's guard is always up when she is on the street.

Kelly is now in her early 20s and working, but the experience of being abducted when she was seven has taught her to not take her safety for granted.

On that fateful afternoon, Kelly was asleep in the car when her driver stepped out to run an errand.

"My family had hired an acquaintance who is a taxi driver to pick me up and drop me home from school every day. I called him 'Uncle'. His service was like that of a school van, and together with another schoolmate, we would wait for his pick-up every day.

"On that day, after my schoolmate and I had got into the car, Uncle told us that he would be gone for just a moment to buy some food nearby. He then left the two of us in the car with the engine running," recalled Kelly.

The afternoon sun was making Kelly drowsy, and she fell asleep within minutes.

Parents must be aware of the risks of leaving their children unattended.

Keep them close: Parents should be aware of the risks of leaving their children unattended. — M. AZHAR ARIF/The Star

"When I woke up, the car was already moving and beside me was this stranger who looked like a crazy person."

The unidentified man, in his 20s, wore dirt-stained clothes and was barefoot. He just drove and drove without looking at Kelly or saying a word, not even when she started crying.

"I was really scared. I didn't know what to do, so I just started crying. I thought my schoolmate was still in the back seat but when I checked, I only saw her bag. I later found out that she had left the car after seeing the stranger get in. It hit me then that I was all alone with a stranger in the car, driving on to God knows where."

The man, as it turned out, wasn't of sound mind. He kept driving in circles.

"Looking back, I realised that the car doors weren't locked. I guess I could've escaped if I had wanted to, but I was too young to know any better. I just kept crying throughout the whole ordeal," recounted Kelly.

In the meantime, the taxi driver had lodged a police report and alerted Kelly's parents.

Luckily after three traumatic hours, a policewoman stopped the car and Kelly was taken to the police station to wait for her parents.

"To me, the nightmare still hadn't ended. I was still surrounded by strangers. The policemen were really nice to me, but I was still too scared to accept any food or water from them."

It was an hour later before Kelly's mother arrived at the station.

"When I saw my mum, I just screamed and ran up to her and hugged her so tightly. To be surrounded by the people you love; to just feel safe in their arms — there's just no words to describe that feeling," shared Kelly.

At home, nobody was allowed to bring up the incident, which Kelly felt was for the better. While she was often jumpy after that, Kelly said the trauma from the incident subsided with time.

Her family became more vigilant, but they made sure Kelly's routine was not disrupted and things went back to normal.

"I thank God every day that I wasn't physically or emotionally harmed. My family learned the hard way – that adults should never leave children unsupervised at any time.

"Till today, my mum blames herself for what happened, but she shouldn't. What I learned from the incident was that sometimes bad things happen and you can't do anything about it. You just have to move on after that and believe that there is still good in the world."

According to Royal Malaysia Police's (RMP) Sexual and Child Investigation department ACP Hamidah Yunus, parents should never leave their children unattended, even for a moment.

"There have been many cases when parents were so engrossed in their own activities that they forget the risk of leaving their children alone somewhere. According to the Child's Act, these parents can be fined for their negligence and jailed for up to two years for endangering a child's life," she said.

Being alert

Bobbie Ariff had merely taken her eyes off her son for a minute when the five-year-old disappeared. The family was leaving a crowded makeshift fast food outlet at a fun fair in Port Dickson when she realised her son was missing.

"I looked around at all the adults who were with us and none of them were holding my child. I freaked out almost immediately," Bobbie, now in her 50s, recalled.

During the panic that ensued, Bobbie and her husband managed to stay calm and organised family and friends to look after the other children while the rest branched out in search of their missing child.

"It was crowded and noisy; there were children running around and concert music was blaring in the background. I was in tears and was just basically looking everywhere.

"I actually saw two policemen who were doing their rounds and ran up to them frantically asking for their help.

"My mind was literally blank. When you're in that situation, you can't think. Suddenly every little boy was wearing the same coloured T-shirt as my child. ," shared Bobbie, a freelance translator.

It took half an hour of frantic searching before Bobbie and her husband spotted their boy standing by the fence around the fairground's amusement rides.

"Aizam was just standing there staring at the ride; my husband and I spotted him at the same time from two different corners and we just ran towards him and hugged him," Bobbie said.

"The whole ordeal was only half an hour, but it felt like the longest half an hour of my life. I learned that you can never, ever let your guard down even for one second when it comes to watching over your children.

"As parents, your children are your sole responsibility; no one else's. Aizam is now 24, but talking about it still gives me goosebumps."

The onus is also on parents to teach children they should never walk off without adult supervision, says homemaker Nik Yasmin Dianara Kamil, the founder and president of the Child Safety Awareness (CSA) group on Facebook, formed in 2012 out of concern for the safety of children.

"Parents must make it a point to talk to their children about personal safety. Keep reminding them over and over so that they know to ask for your permission before going off on their own, and are aware that they should never follow strangers or accept anything from them.

"Parents should keep an eye out for their children at all times, especially in crowded areas. I've seen a lot of families who allow their children to roam free in shopping malls – they probably think that nothing bad will happen to them, but why take chances?"

* Not her real name.

>This Child Safety Awareness campaign is brought to you by RHB Banking Group in collaboration with The Star.


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