A packet of chips, a bottle of aerated beverage and a television or play station that remains switched on for most part of the day. It is a perfect recipe for couch potatoes – children who are stuck to this setting and do not go out to play.
While many parents may feel relieved if children stay indoors, doctors dread the trend that can lead to obesity at young age.
While school time at least offers the scope for physical training on the campus, vacation can swing either way - a season of physical activity or of just staying indoors. One section of parents sends children to classes in swimming and other sporting activities such as tennis or cricket.
The other section - mostly the working couples - keeps them hooked on to junk food and television at home, assuming that in their absence safety of the children is assured this way.
This is dangerous because children are initiated into a sedentary lifestyle, says V. Rajendran, Chief Diabetologist of Dr. Rajendran's Diabetes Centre: “We see some cases of Type II diabetes in the late schooling stage and among college students. All these can be linked to early setting in of sedentary lifestyle,” he says.
“The foundation for problems later is invariably laid during school days. If children are pushed on to playgrounds, this can turn into a habit throughout their life. Fitness will be guaranteed,” the doctor explains.
Says paediatrician and Medical Adviser at Masonic Medical Centre for Children M. Ramaswamy: “The advantage of being out on the playground is that children will have that much time less to eat whatever they can get their hands on, especially junk food.
But, parents or other elders in the family should devote time for the children when they are at home during vacation. Otherwise, busy parents think that the best way to keep the children occupied is by switching the television on throughout the day.”
Dr. Ramaswamy, a paediatrician, says professional medical organisations do not approve of the content on channels that is perceived to be only for children. “They are not child-friendly. Parents or other relatives must sit with the children to point out what is good or bad for them.”
Says Dr. Rajendran: “There is too much violence in some channels and this leads to wrong orientation for the children.”
The paediatrician and the diabetologist advice healthy physical activity and diet for children. Children must have food rich in protein, vitamins and carbohydrates.
Egg whites, fish, milk and curd can be consumed. Fruits such as orange and banana are full of vitamins and minerals.
Dr. Rajendran points out: “Vacation is the time when children will not have the stress of studying for examinations. Physical activity in the form of any game will further de-stress them. What is important is that they will not be candidates for early diabetes or obesity if this is sustained even after school re-opens. But, once they are hooked to the couch potato system, weaning them from it will prove difficult.”
Dr. Ramasamy explains: “The American Academy of Paediatrics asks parents to get children out of the living room. They must play for one hour to one-and-a-half hours every day. But, if this must catch on among the children, the parents should first set an example by taking to fitness activities.”