Adapting to Western civilization has certainly given us huge benefits, but it has come to us at an enormous cost. We have cures for so many critical diseases, but the general health of Indians is not what we should be proud of. Childhood obesity is not a very common term nowadays and we are not much concerned when we see chubby kids. But this is gradually becoming a major public health crisis in India.
According to a survey in America by National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), in the year 2007-2008, 16% of people aged between 2 and 19 years have shown symptoms of obesity, 30% overweight. Most of the educated Indians today are blindly following the American sedentary lifestyle, trying to emulate their eating habits and lifestyle. Hence, Indian population, especially the younger generation is highly prone to suffering from childhood obesity.
What are the causes of childhood obesity?
Generally, imbalance between calorie intake and calorie utilized results in generation of excess calories in our body which leads to obesity. Childhood obesity can be caused by a series of reasons like genetic history, behavioural pattern and environment.
• Genetic reason-
The children having family history of obesity are prone to be obese. Typically, such genetic issues emerge at a certain age. But the current lifestyle accelerates this type of problems. The so-called adulthood problems are now becoming prominent from a very tender age, such as appearance of grey hair.
• Behavioural pattern-
Sometimes our behaviour plays an even greater role than genetics. Behaviours and habits decide most part of our daily lifestyles and as we follow them in our unconscious state, we cannot always detect the wrong habits. Today, people generally tend to stay awake till late in the night and thus wake up late- this disturbs our sleep cycle and eating habits. We often consume snacks way more that how much we actually need and tend to skip the breakfast as waking up late gives us little time to prepare and eat proper snacks. In our hectic schedule, having too much fast food and calorie-rich food is so common. We hardly get any necessary nutrition from these but they are easily available, suit our taste and take less time to make and consume- it is actually hard for us to ignore these type of foods now. Having no time or energy to exercise is also part of this behavioural pattern.
• Environmental reasons-
These days, obesity has so common that we do not even worry when we see an obese child. Even the school canteens are stuffed with unhealthy foods and availability of no parks in the neighbourhood leaves us with no place to play regularly.
How can childhood obesity be detected?
Detection of childhood obesity is very important. Obesity can be caused by several diseases too. So until and unless we sort out the obese children and treat them accordingly, no actual improvement will take place.
Obesity can be measured using body mass index (BMI). The formula is-
BMI = Body mass (in kilograms) / height (in metres)
BMI in range 18-25 is normal but if it is over 30, it seriously needs our attention. But it also depends upon the body composition. Hence, we need to consult a doctor to determine the ideal weight of any individual.
What are the harmful effects of childhood obesity?
We tend to like chubby infants and toddlers but obese children are often targeted by school bullies. They are even discriminated and stigmatized. As a result, they have generally a negative body image. Those children suffer the maximum peer pressure when their friends make fun of them regularly. This leads them to have a low self-esteem. They often think lowly of themselves and believe that they do not deserve any good. This lack of confidence bars their academic and overall growth and they start to be less outgoing.
Obesity causes many complicated problems. Obese children mostly have sleep apnoea and they are short of breath. The excess fat in their body leads to muscle disorders and fatty liver. They often have high cholesterol in their blood. High blood pressure of teenagers are not that common anymore. Even the alarming rate of high blood pressure can cause stroke or heart attack if not diagnosed right away.
Obesity can even cause several cardiovascular problems. The excess sugar in the blood may generate type-2 diabetes which is insulin-resistant and very hard to deal with.
Most of these diseases can cause severe problems much later in their adulthood. So they should not be ignored.
How can we prevent childhood obesity?
As we can see, prevention and taking steps to decrease the rate of childhood obesity is very crucial. In the USA, Michelle Obama has started a movement called ‘Let’s move’, which encourages people to get enough physical exercise to burn the excess calories. In India, we really need this kind of measure in order to get rid of the childhood obesity.
Government should not neglect this issue and must fix budget to analyse and take actions against the issue. If the Government comes up with several plans that include making people aware of the effects of obesity and how to get rid of this, we can get over it sooner.
Recently, our honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched the “fit India movement”, to encourage people to be more physically active. We should grab this opportunity to create a fit and active India.
Society must play a very crucial role to fight against this. There are already several parks in the cities, but we rarely go out there to play or exercise. We have to make these parks active and with equipment so that children can go there in their free time. It is boring for them to play alone. But if we can cultivate a culture where all children from the neighbourhood can come to play, they will be willing to spend time there. We also have to reduce the advertisements of fast food and organize seminars in school to encourage them to get proper diet. School canteens must not have any sugar-rich food and students should bring healthy homemade food.
All the family members have to be active to address this issue. Generally children copy their parents, so if the parents maintain regular fibre-rich diet and exercise regularly, they will also start implementing these habits. Parents must set a fixed time for the meals and abide by it. They can provide fruits as snack and buy readymade foods only after examining the calorie contents. They all should have plenty of green vegetables and ban any food with hidden sugar.
These simple acts of lifestyle changes can prevent lethal diseases caused by childhood obesity. All we need is a little concern and care to prevent such crisis in the future.
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