A teenage boy in Kaohsiung was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer on Wednesday, which doctors attributed to a lack of exercise and poor diet.
The Formosa Cancer Foundation on Wednesday also reported that recent interviews found that 80 percent of patients with bowel cancer frequently had late-night snacks and often stayed up late.
Poor habits are hard to avoid in modern society, particularly given the heavy demands placed on many Taiwanese workers, who are often required to work overtime.
An article posted on Web site livestrong.com on Oct. 3 last year suggested that “junk food” has a comforting effect on the reward center of the brain, which is why people seek out unhealthy snacks when they are dealing with stress and anxiety.
This reward-seeking behavior is further exacerbated when dealing with a lack of sleep, the article said.
In Taiwan, such habits begin early, as high demands are placed on children from a young age. They are often sent to cram schools after regular classes and are required to pass demanding examinations to enter good secondary schools and universities.
The nation’s elementary schools have long banned sugary drinks, and in October last year, the Ministry of Education moved to ban sugary drinks from junior and senior-high schools as well. However, the school system is ultimately limited in its ability to control students’ habits.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiang Nai-hsin (蔣乃辛), who proposed the blanket ban on sugary drinks in schools, said that about 29 percent of grade-school children are considered obese.
One reason might be that many students eat off-campus, bring packed lunches from home or frequent the popular beverage shops that abound near many schools. Students are generally also spending more time playing video games on mobile devices and less time doing physical exercise.
The Health Promotion Administration in December identified cancer as the leading cause of death in the nation, with colon cancer at the top of the list. One person is diagnosed with cancer every five minutes, it said.
Parents might even be unintentionally contributing to the development of cancer in their children, as some commonly consumed foods such as cured meats and pickled vegetables might cause cancer if eaten often, Taiwan Society for Chest Care chairman Lee Chang-ming (李章銘) said in November.
Smoking and alcohol consumption are also leading contributors, and while children are unlikely to engage in those activities, developing poor habits when one is young is likely to lead to other poor habits in adulthood.
Should parents be held responsible for their children’s obesity and unhealthy behavior? The impulse might be to say “yes,” but the issue is more complicated than that. Parents could be quite busy and might struggle with their own unhealthy habits. These days, both parents often work, and neither has the time to cook meals at home.
Nevertheless, obesity is becoming an epidemic and something must be done to tackle it. The WHO has identified childhood obesity as one of the most serious public health threats of the 21st century. The number of obese children today is roughly double the number in 1980, WHO statistics show.
One thing parents can do is teach their children about nutrition and make them aware of the salt and sugar levels in “convenient” foods. Even convenience stores have healthy options, such as salads, fruit, unsalted nuts, low-sugar yogurts and eggs, and children can choose unsweetened bottled tea or low-sugar soy milk instead of carbonated sodas or juices.
Parents should also try to reduce their children’s study load and look at sports as an extracurricular option, instead of indoor activities. Parents might be busy, but they should nurture health-conscious children.
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