Experts say unhealthy eating and too much TV are causing diseases
The survey of adolescents in Chennai Schools has surprised both doctors at Madras Medical College (MMC) and Chennai Corporation officials.
Findings revealed that almost 90 per cent of the students rarely ate fruit, and 50 per cent do not want to eat vegetables. In fact, during the survey the children were emphatic when they said they did not like vegetables, said Anand Moses, head of the college’s diabetology department, which conducted the survey.
The surveyors and officials say they are surprised that most children eat junk food and consume sugary beverages even though many of them are from economically weak backgrounds. Dr. Moses added that many parents packed noodles for a mid-morning snack, and the children ate this as well as lunch under the noon meal scheme.
Among the other unhealthy habits noticed was the number of hours spent in front of the television. On an average, children spent two hours watching TV and nearly 84 per cent of them did not play outside even two days a week.
Hemalatha, a class XII student in a school in Ayanavaram, said her mother, Lalli, cooks vegetables twice a week. Lalli is a domestic help and does not have time to prepare meals at home.
“I buy brinji during lunch hour from a restaurant outside school. I don’t eat the food served in school,” Hemalatha said.
Lalli, however, complains that Hemalatha discards all the vegetables in her sambar rice. “Occasionally I buy bananas and though vegetables are expensive I do buy them. I cook meat once a week but I can’t cook greens because I don’t have time,” Lalli said.
Hemalatha watches TV for one hour each day and doesn’t play any sport as she is more focused on her studies. She is not to blame, as most schools use physical training classes to teach other subjects. Doctors who conducted the survey said that teachers admitted that students preferred to study during PT classes as they could not finish their portions before examinations.
The MMC survey findings should not come as a surprise, as a study conducted at the Institute of Child Health in 2001-2002 by paediatrician P. Venkataraman and endocrinologist P.G. Sundararaman found that children living in slums were as prone to obesity as children from affluent families. That study had found that half of the 904 children in the 5 to 12 age group surveyed snacked on chips regularly. The MMC survey also found that all the children who watched TV tended to snack on chips. “They eat one full packet of chips,” Dr. Moses said.
After the release of the survey, Mayor Saidai S. Doraisamy said he would arrange for a meeting with all the surveyed students and their parents in a stadium to emphasise the need for physical activity and better lifestyles. He also said he would call for a meeting of education officers in all zones and impress upon them to identify a play area for children in schools without playgrounds.