Childhood Obesity, a silent pandemic

Nutrición 21/06/2023

According to the World Health Organization (2021) in 2016 at least 41 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese.

Childhood obesity is not a recent problem, however, there has been an alarming increase in this public health problem in recent years. According to the World Health Organization (2021) in 2016 at least 41 million children under five years of age were overweight or obese, representing 18% of the world’s child population and quadrupling the figure of obesity in 1975.

Bolivia does not escape this situation and the numbers are even higher. According to Unicef (2020), 35.6% of children between 5 and 18 years of age in Bolivia have a prevalence of excess malnutrition, of which 39.3% belong to the urban areas of the country.

These data are very alarming since obesity represents a very serious health problem for children who suffer from it. A child with obesity will present breathing difficulties, difficulty sleeping, drowsiness, orthopedic problems, swelling of the feet and ankles, skin disorders, excessive perspiration, diabetes, asthma and even cancer; in addition, the child might have psychological problems due to discrimination and difficulty in relating to other children (Vélez, 2009).

This is why it is very important to prevent and combat obesity, and it is even more important to act in time since “70% of children who suffer from obesity will be obese when they reach adulthood” (Porti, 2006).

The main causes...

The main causes of this nutritional problem are usually poor diet and lack of physical activity, but there are also other reasons such as hereditary causes or simply the child’s environment:

  • Family environment. The eating habits of the child’s family will greatly affect the child’s habits, for example, if the family does not have an established meal schedule, it will be directly related to higher rates of obesity.
  • Cultural environment. Bolivian culture has a strong emphasis on food. Family and friend gatherings tend to take place in an environment where food is the main activity. In addition, there is not a culture of much physical activity, so children are more likely to start gaining weight.
  • Education. Many Bolivian families, both in rural and urban areas, lack basic education. This lack of education can contribute to unhealthy habits and behaviors for the whole family and especially for children.

The role of parents...

The role of parents is essential in this regard, since obesity and overweight in children can be easily prevented at home by following simple recommendations:

  • Have a control of the mother’s diet during breastfeeding.
  • Teach children to choose healthy foods.
  • Eat breakfast at home: dairy products, cereals, fruit or natural juice.
  • Establish schedules. It is very important to have an established schedule for meals, for physical activities and even for sleeping.
  • Children who do not get enough sleep are at risk for unhealthy weight gain (CDC, 2022).
  • Do not snack between meals.
  • Get at least half an hour of physical activity daily.
  • Limit hours on television or the Internet.
  • Teach people to drink water instead of sweetened beverages.
  • Avoid motorized transportation as much as possible and encourage walking.

However, the best way to prevent obesity in children is to improve their eating habits from an early age. If you do not know what a child should eat or in what quantity, you can talk to a nutrition specialist, who will help you develop a specialized and appropriate diet for your child. Under no circumstances should a diet or food restriction be started without medical supervision.


Centros para el control y la prevención de enfermedades (2022). Prevenir la obesidad infantil: Cuatro cosas que las familias pueden hacer. Retrieved on March 2023 from:

Comité de nutrición de la Asociación Española de Pediatría (S.a.). Guía sobre obesidad Infantil para profesionales sanitarios de atención primaria. España: Ministerio de sanidad y consumo.

Organización Mundial de la Salud (2021). Obesidad y sobrepeso. Retrieved on January 2023 from:

Porti, M. (2006). Obesidad infantil. Argentina: Imaginador.

Unicef (2020). Tres de cada diez estudiantes bolivianos tienen sobrepeso y obesidad. Retrieved on January 2023 from:,%2C2%25%20con%20obesidad%20severa.

Vélez, Y. (2009). Como combatir la obesidad infantil. Estados Unidos: