A report in TheHindu some time ago spoke of the U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama calling upon Congress to pass legislation to combat childhood obesity. In a speech during her “Let us move” campaign at an elementary school in Louisiana, she exhorted children to exercise and requested Congress to pass legislation to provide more nutritious food at a reduced price in schools. Childhood obesity leading to diabetes mellitus in children is increasing alarmingly in developed countries such as the U.S. and hence the concern.
In this context, it is better to have a look at the status of obesity, especially childhood obesity, in India. The phenomenon is increasing in our urban areas. Over 20 per cent men and 30 per cent women in urban areas have obesity and nearly 40 per cent women have abdominal obesity. In another study, 40 per cent of adults in Indian cities and 17.3 per cent in villages are obese. In Chennai 16-18 per cent schoolchildren are obese, and in Cochin 15 per cent of children are obese and 50 per cent of adults are overweight or obese.
Obesity has a unique impact on children and their families. Childhood obesity leads to many complications such as childhood diabetes, premature hypertension and heart attacks, osteoarthritis, respiratory diseases and psychosocial problems. Childhood obesity leads to adult obesity. An obese child developing diabetes at 10 may lose 19 years of his/her life.
Never before in the history of mankind has so much food been so readily available in so many attractive forms in various designs propagated by bogus advertisements in the media by leading personalities just for money without knowing about their potential risks. In one study in urban areas in India, it has been found that 88 per cent of high schools, 61 per cent of middle schools and 15 per cent of primary schools have wending machines on the campus.
The government has a big role to play to make the theme “prevent obesity” effective and successful. Parents should understand that physical activity and proper diet are as important as is academic performance. Many of our elite public schools do not even have adequate playgrounds. Wending machines should be banned from schools. A periodic, compulsory health check-up in schools is a must. Obese children should be identified and these children with their parents must be enlightened on the health hazards.
Meals (balanced diet) can be provided in school itself at a subsided rate. Task forces on health may be constituted in schools for educating children. The Human Resource Development Ministry recently introduced a “unique identification numbers” scheme for schoolchildren to help track their movement in educational institutions and academic records.
Unfortunately, nothing is stated about including their health records, which is absolutely essential. Our aim should be to “add more life to years” rather than “add more years to life.”
(The writer is Emeritus Professor and Chief Physician of Medicine,
SUT Hospital, Pattom,