Is your child overweight, or just chubby? Our expert tells you why your child's weight matters

Mar 13, 2018, 16:45 IST | Pavitra Sampath

Obesity in children and adolescent is a rapidly growing epidemic all over the world, more so in the developing countries where it has grown even faster in the last two decades

Childhood obesity
Childhood obesity. Image/Thinkstock

Dr ramen GoelObesity in children and adolescent is a rapidly growing epidemic all over the world, more so in the developing countries where it has grown even faster in the last two decades. According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, India has the second highest number of obese children in the world. Dr Ramen Goel, Senior Bariatric Surgeon, Director, Center of  Bariatric & Metabolic Surgery, Wockhardt Group of Hospitals tells you why it is about time you paid attention to your child’s health

The concern amongst scientific community regarding this disease arises from multiple reasons –

  • A child does not outgrow obesity, which means that 90% of obese children are likely to become obese adults.
  • Obesity in a child limits his academic, social, physical and mental growth. The child is neither able to play active physical sport like football etc nor able to participate in plays, musicals etc.
  • Besides these children feel stigmatized as the diagnosis is written all over the body. Friends, family, teachers and even strangers do not hesitate to tender un-solicited advise to consume less and exercise more without realizing its impact on child’s psyche.
  • Over 30 per cent children amongst affluent society are overweight or obese. The quality of life for these children is comparatively lower than those of normal weight kids. As most of these are likely to carry their obesity into adulthood, increasing risks of often life-threatening conditions such as premature death, heart disease, obstructive sleep apnea, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Changed environment:

Parents and sociologists are questioning the possible reasons behind this unwelcome phenomenon. The probable reasons vary from improved food availability, motorised transport, screen based education, sports and so on.

Economic liberalization – The most probable reason is affordability and access to food, clubbed with aspirational aspect, childhood obesity in developing world is matching the prevalence in developed countries. 

Quality of Food – Unfortunately, calorie dense food is considered tastier. Also packaged or ready to eat food is loaded with unhealthy trans-fats and preservatives to enhance shelf life. Now even the food available at home or outside is also calorie dense. There is higher oil usage either by maid/ maharaj at home or even by family members. Healthy food options in school canteens, theatres, birthday or marriage parties are limited. Thus a child has no or very few healthy food options.

Food advertising – Role of advertising in influencing child’s food choices is well recognised. In countries like Australia direct/surrogate advertising targeted at children is prohibited.

Peer pressure – Children are vulnerable to peer choices and easy availability of calorie dense western/Indian junk food makes them select one.

Absence of role models- Parents, teachers and other senior family members are busy & too stressed to realize significance of leisure family time. Long working hours and nuclear families results in loneliness and boredom for the child. Either child finds solace in eating or parents find packed food an easy way to feed and make up for their absence. A child is completely dependent on his or her parents when it comes to food selection. Therefore it is important for parents to inculcate healthy eating habits themselves. We are raising a generation and it’s our responsibility what we hand down.

Screen time has increased tremendously in children & adults also. The extra energy/ time is all used by data usage.

Eating out generally is the easiest family outing option. Buffet meals & vast dessert spreads increase the amount of calorie consumption on a regular basis.

Physical activity and sports are limited. Either the travel time or competitive education system or unavailability of open spaces all contribute to sedentary lifestyle.

Pollution is also causing an impact on the overall health. It is well established that pollution and lack of sleep results in increased obesity.

Whatever may the reason be, childhood obesity is a serious health concern for the child, family, society and nation. It is time each component takes charge and ensure that our next generation lives a healthier and longer life than their parents.

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