There is a fine line between being overweight and being morbidly obese. The menace of obesity is increasing in children in India and across the world. Call it a dire paediatric crisis or a harrowing health threat, but this is the fact of the moment.According to a World Health Organisation report, the number of overweight children under the age of five in 2013 was estimated to be over 42 million, and the number is growing. Of these, around 31 million are from developing nations.
At the heart of this menace lies our sorrowful obesogenic environment. Our children’s daily intake includes ‘instant’ food such as two-minute noodles, MSG charged chips, sugary jams, fatty maida noodles—often with carcinogenic accents in preservatives and colours. Such fats are unhealthy and on digestion release toxins that bring obesity, stunted height, breathlessness and diabetes with it. Children snack almost continuously—accounting for up to 27 per cent of their daily calorie intake. “They resort to comfort foods for emotional eating. Foods rich in sugar and fat gives them an instant rush. Gradually, unhealthy eating becomes a habit,” Mumbai-based nutritionist Karishma Chawla of EatRite 24x7 says, adding that one should eat purposefully and not foolishly.
With the growing number of obesity cases, the government has asked schools to not sell fast food and sugary drinks. They have been instructed to source fresh, seasonal fruits and consume food items within three-four hours of preparation.
“Kids have nutritional needs that differ from those of adults. Healthy food choices are a must. Discover healthier alternatives that low on oil, baked vegetable cutlets, pav bhaji with whole wheat buns, dal roti, fruit milkshakes and sprouted moong bhelpuri. Replace maida with oats, full fat milk with its toned version, cheese with hung curd,” says Richa Anand, Chief Dietician, Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai.
Stop slouching and being a couch potato. Scrimping on exercise, stowing in the calories through mindless chomping in front of the idiot box and lugging books from one tuition to another dulls out kids. With the exponential increase in screen time on the iPhone, iPads and Kindle, the inches are experiencing a lateral increase together with a decrease in height. “Sports are not given much importance, especially for girls,” says Mumbai-based psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chhabria. “Children are so exposed to the adult way of life that they would rather meet their friends over coffee than planning a games session.”
Parents should encourage kids to meet up with their friends for a swim or games. Ask them to sit straight on a chair, not slouch or hunch over their books while reading in adequate light.
Heredity contributes between five to 25 per cent of the risk of obesity, with over 50 different genes playing a role in causing obesity. In this case, a poor diet, packed with processed, fatty and rich foods can increase the harmful effects of these genes and add to unnecessary bulk. Sleep deprivation also brings on increase in weight. Says Dr Pankaj Aggarwal, MD, Homeopathy, in Mumbai, “Not all children carrying extra kilos are overweight or obese. Some children have larger than average body frames, and kids normally carry different amounts of body fat at the various stages of development. You might not know just by looking at your child if his or her weight is a health concern as BMI does not consider things like being muscular or having a larger than average body frame. Growth patterns vary greatly among children.”
Never run your child down over her vital statistics. That will lower their self esteem. Talk to them without being critical or judgmental. Dr Chhabria says, “Body shaming will effect the child’s mental and emotional well-being, bringing in depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem and dipping confidence.”
At a given weight, kids are likely to have a higher fat percentage and lower muscle mass and bone density. According to a WHO survey, approximately 24 per cent of children between four and 14 years in India are found to be overweight and 18 per cent are obese. This is true even if the child appears to be of normal weight. The phenomenon is referred to as ‘thin fat Indian’, says surgeon Dr Manish Motwani of Aastha Healthcare, Mumbai. “Thirty per cent of children in India are obese, making obesity the most chronic childhood disease. One in every five kids is overweight, and the number may increase.”
■ Keep a check on your child's weight, consult a dietician to plan out their daily intake
■ Educate yourself about healthy food, reduce portions, understand the food pyramid
■ Practise what you preach by following a healthy lifestyle yourself
■ Children are so exposed to the adult way of life that they would rather meet their friends over coffee