Overweight in First Nations Children: Prevalence, Implications, and Solutions
Noreen D. Willows, PhD, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta
Obesity is a condition of excessive body fat to an extent that health may be compromised. Overweight children have high weight for their height and may be at risk for obesity and its complications. In Canada, children are classified as obese or overweight based on their body mass index (BMI), which is the ratio of a child’s weight to height. A child with a high BMI typically has excess body fat and is referred to as obese. Although national survey data is lacking, the available evidence suggests that Aboriginal children and youth living in Canada have a high rate of overweight and obesity. Childhood obesity is associated with health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high levels of fat and insulin in the blood, joint problems, gallstones, and breathing problems when sleeping. Considering the high rate of type 2 diabetes in Aboriginal communities, the health risks associated with obesity in childhood may be high for Aboriginal children. National surveys are required to interpret the extent of the problem in Canada. However, the available evidence suggests a need for programs to prevent obesity in children in Aboriginal communities. The development of programs requires a better understanding of the biological, community-level, cultural, and social contributions to obesity in children. Community-based research that examines the factors associated with obesity in Aboriginal children (e.g., characteristics of the mother, activity level, dietary intake, and body fat); looks at cultural perceptions, attitudes, and knowledge about overweight children; and identifies community barriers to the adoption of healthy lifestyles is required.