The obesity epidemic is an urban reality as children cut down on outdoor activities and become couch potatoes. PADMINI B. PATELLreports
In a country where 46 per cent of children under 3 are undernourished, who would have imagined that obesity would figure as a major health problem? Prior to 1995, malnutrition was another word for India’s health scenario but thanks to altered lifestyles, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise and stress, obesity now tops the health alarm list. While the percentage among adults is 18 per cent according to WHO, it’s a shocking 30 per cent among children. In Delhi alone, 24.2 per cent of school children were found to be obese in a recent study by the Diabetes Foundation of India. And in Hyderabad, 50 per cent of the students in affluent schools were obese. An appropriate reason why Hyderabad SPINE Clinics held a free Obesity Screening for children on Independence Day! “When a broiler chicken has to be fattened, the first step is to restrict its movement by minimising the space around it, exactly the similar outcome is seen on humans whose area of activity unfortunately has drastically shrunk, therefore the tendency to accumulate fat,” says Maj. Dr. S. Bakhtiar Choudhary, MD (Sports Medicine), Hyderabad SPINE Clinics. National surveys show that this increase in obesity among school children in particular is due to poor participation in exercises and organised games resulting in sedentary habits and poor fitness.
The lack of interest stems from parents who lay undue emphasis on academics, educational institutions which prefer classrooms to playgrounds and children who are constantly trying to cope with various pressures which leave them with little time for any other activity.
The consequences of the lack of exercise are increased body weight, reduced muscular strength, endurance and flexibility and flat feet (a direct resultant of walking only on hard and smooth surfaces). Obese children suffer from depression, low-self esteem, poor body image and social isolation that prevent them from active sports and social gatherings.
The long-term consequences anticipated are hypertension, diabetes, endocrinal disturbances, cancer, sleep disorders and behavioural problems added to dental problems, growth injuries and age related disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and arthritis occurring prematurely. Worse is the medical danger of obesity increasing with age and being carried into adulthood.
“Research has shown that childhood obesity needs a multi-disciplinary approach. Restrictions on simple sugars, visible oils, junk foods, aerated drinks and meats to once in a fortnight and food with increased dietary fibre from vegetables, fruits and unrefined cereals is essential. Along with this physical activity in the form of active group games and games which can be played life-long e.g. tennis helps. Regulated television viewing, computer/video games (not more than 30 minutes per day) and even elimination of the television remote can go a long way. However, scientific monitoring of body fat using biochemical parameters is important. Only a total commitment from the entire family can motivate a child to become more active and inculcates an interest in fitness for life,” says Choudhary.
On the eve of India’s 60th Independence Day, The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) issued guidelines on food and nutrition in schools considering rising children obesity figures, mainly in urban India and has asked all state governments to advise schools to stop the sale of junk food, encourage students to take nutritious diet and promote physical activity.
Sign boards reading ‘Beware of dogs’ are common but we now have to wake up to the obesity problem and ‘Beware of Puppy Fat’!