- Families with kids should ensure following healthy eating habits
- Parents should avoid screen time when kids are eating
- Encourage consumption of fresh, home-cooked foods
Health 2019: As shocking as it may sound, there has been a tenfold increase in adolescent and childhood obesity in four decades, according to a 2017 study led by World Health Organization (WHO) and Imperial College London. The numbers are only going to increase in the coming decade. According to the World Obesity Federation's Atlas of Childhood Obesity, India, China and the US are expected to have the highest number of obese children globally in absolute terms, by 2030. Paediatrician Dr Gorika Bansal says that apart from malnutrition, obesity is the new rising concern in India. "It's the new emerging epidemic which needs to be curbed in time as aimed by WHO," she says.
Childhood obesity is a particularly troubling because a few extra kilos make kids go on a path to health problems that were once considered to be adult problems - like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.
According to the recent stats stated by Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, around 5-8.8% of school children are obese in India. And if the rates increase at a pace like this, India is going to rank at the second spot, closest to China around 2030, in the world chart for maximum number of obese children (5-19 years of age). This means that around 27 million Indian children will be obese by 2030, as stated by the World Obesity Federation.
Thus, one of the major goals of WHO is to halt the rise of obesity and diabetes. Prevention of childhood obesity is important because kids affected by obesity grow to be obese in later adulthood too. 2 out of 3 obese kids will become obese adults. Thus the need to prevent obesity right in childhood is highly important.
Why is obesity a health concern ?
It's good to have fat children around who look cute and chubby. However, its consequences in later life like cardiovascular problems, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, respiratory problems like asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, psychological issues like poor self-esteem, depression and poor life expectancy make childhood obesity a serious concern.
Causes of childhood obesity
Of course genetics plays their role but on top of that are environmental and behavioural factors that result in childhood obesity.
1. Sedentary lifestyle
Kids today have packed schedules with late hour schools, tuitions, extra classes and the pressure to get good grades. This hardly gives them any time to play outside. Overuse of gadgets, TV, mobile iPad computer games, etc are so captivating that kids have forgotten or are unaware of the charm of outdoor games.
Parents and family members are partly to be blamed for this as they themselves are in packed schedules and get no time for walking, jogging, or playtime.
2. Poor diet
Consumption of sugary foods, high fat foods, especially the ones high in saturated fats and trans fats, salted snacks and aerated drinks are one of the major causes of childhood obesity and overweight kids.
Increased indulgence in kids for these foods is because they are given only such kinds of foods and beverages as part of treates and parties.
TV advertisements that glorify these products are also a big contributing factor for kids cravings such food items.
Kids follow their parents footsteps and unhealthy food practises at home makes them imitate them outside of home. The saying obesity runs in families is partly because of genes and majorly because of eating habits.
3. Lack of exercise
Because of rising pollution levels parents, tend to keep kids indoors in evening hours. And, increased pressures of getting good grades, also puts pressures on working parents to take care of kids' studies during evening hours when they're back home.
4. Stress and anxiety
Teenagers experience anxiety issues, stress, emotional problems or depression, all of which can lead to binge eating, leading to obesity .
5. Force feeding
Force feeding infants and toddlers, or feeding them in front of a screen makes kids put on weight. Parents should try to feed kids without any screens or distractions as it will help the kids be aware of their satiety signals. Force feeding kids has the same effect, where kids forget their hunger and satiety cues. For a majority of mothers in the clinics, we feel the baby's weight is a concern even though the kid is active and fit.
Childhood obesity: Preventive measures
One of the best and most effective measures of curbing childhood obesity is bringing an improvement to eating and exercising habits of the entire family. Following tips may help too:
- Increase fruit and vegetable intake of kids.
- Reduce screen time. Screen time while eating needs to be avoided altogether.
- Reduce sugar intake. Sugar is now called the new 'tobacco' and must be limited at all ages.
- Encourage drinking eater instead of aerated drinks.
- Encourage physical activity. It is a struggle to ensure active lives in kids because of time limitations and academic pressures. Nonetheless, parents need to facilitate physical activity in young kids, and minimum of 60 minutes of daily vigorous physical activity in older kids.
Parents as role models for children:
- Children see what parents eat! Healthy eating includes consuming more fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole-grain and nuts.
- Give skimmed milk instead of whole milk to kids after age of two.
- Encourage consumption of fresh, home-cooked foods. Intake of fast foods, junk and processed foods must be limited to occasions.
- Healthy snacking options should be within reach for growing children. Makhanas, sprout salad, egg salad, murmuras, etc should always be handy.
- Parents should encourage healthy mealtime behaviours. Forced and coaxed/coerced feeding often leads to poor self-control and later obesity.
- Parents need to ensure that children eat when they are hungry, and not when they are bored or tired.
- Parents can take kids for shopping for veggies and fruits. Also involve kids in cooking add on the fun component in the so-called boring foods. This will also help in building kids' interests in healthy foods.
So, spreading awareness about all of this amongst adults and in schools is important for our community as a whole.
Nutrition classes should be started in schools-in which kids are taught to read food labels and prepare quick and healthy snacks at home. Such classes should be glorified and rewarded.
(Dr Gorika Bansal is Consultant Pediatrician and New Born Specialist at Dr Gorika's Children's Medical Center. She is also Visiting consultant at Rainbows Children's Hospital , Sitaram Bhartiya Hospital and Adiva hospital.)
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