Inspire your child to go from fat to fit: Tips to tackle childhood obesity

Tackling obesity in children

The recent news about an 11-year-old obese girl undergoing bariatric surgery has put the issue of children's health and childhood obesity under the scanner. We speak to nutritionist Neha Chandna, leading paediatrician Dr Zinal Unadkat and diabetes and obesity surgeon Dr Ramen Goelon how to tackle this weighty problem.

Cases of childhood obesity are on the rise these days and there are enough reasons which contribute to the growing numbers. The prime one is sedentary lifestyles. 'Children don't play outdoor games these days. There aren't many facilities for playing games like basketball, football, cricket, etc. Moreover, they have options aplenty at home like watching TV, playing video games, mobile and computer games. This reduces their physical activity to a large extent,' points out Dr Zinal. (Also read: 5 weird and fun workouts)

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She further adds that the easy availability of junk foods like pizzas, fries, burgers which are high in unsaturated fats and are difficult to digest also add to the problem. 'These days, both parents are working in most families and kids are at the mercy of maids who don't necessarily take care of their diet. Even in joint families, grandparents over pamper kids by offering sweets and chocolates which attributes to weight gain,' she says.

So how can parents handle this situation?

Here are a few pointers Dr Zinal recommends:

  • Discipline your child and enforce some restrictions regarding their diet.
  • Give them tasty and fresh home-made foods than outside, readymade food.
  • Keep a balance in time spent on studies and playing.
  • Encourage physical activities as a family like going for swimming, badminton, etc together.
  • Let them take part in sports too and not only be focussed on academics.

What's a healthy diet for children?

In order to ensure that your child is eating right, nutritionist Neha Chandna has devised a healthy meal plan for kids. 'A growing child needs all the nutrients in adequate amounts to promote growth and development both mentally and physically. Their diet must have foods from all food groups,' she says. Include the following in their meals:

  • Cereals: Oats, brown rice, whole wheat, jowar, bajri, ragi for energy, fibre, and B-complex vitamins
  • Pulses: Dals, sprouts, soya beans for proteins and muscle formation
  • Milk and milk products: Curds, cheese, paneer for calcium to promote bone and teeth development
  • Eggs, chicken, fish (if non-vegetarian) for protein. Fish also contains DHA for brain development of the child
  • Fruits of all varieties for vitamins, minerals and fibre
  • Green leafy veggies like spinach, methi, broccoli for iron and blood formation
  • Healthy oils like olive oil, rice bran oil, sunflower oil for essential fatty acids and overall good health


'Do no force the child to gulp the food he does not like. Rather change the recipe or the way of cooking or presenting that particular food or replace it with some other ingredient to make sure he/she gets the desired nutrients,' she adds. Dr Reshma, the editor of this site and mother of an eight-year-old also gives some handy tips. 'A child is highly influenced by the parents. So it is up to us to inculcate healthy habits in ourselves first before we preach to kids. Exercise at home, get the kid to do it with you. Make it a fun activity by calling their friends over. Serve food in fun plates and make healthy yet interesting dishes,' she advises. On regulating junk food, she says it can be negotiated with your child keep it to once a week, once in two weeks, then once in a month. (Also read: 5 healthy recipes your kids will love)

An hour of physical activity in any form every day is enough to keep your child healthy. It is important is that the child enjoys what he is doing and considers it a recreation rather than forceful exercise.

Parents need to keep a constant check on their child's height and weight. Habituate them to regular small meal pattern rather than three large meals to increase their metabolism. Avoid feeding them with excess butter, ghee and other fatty foods hoping that their child will become healthy. Inculcate the habit of eating two portions of salad and fruits every day.

What to do if your child is overweight or obese?

Nutritionist Neha says:

  • Make sure your child exercises for an hour every day.
  • He/she should not consume more than 3-4 tsp oil per day.
  • Give them salads before lunch and dinner.
  • Include healthy mid-meal snack options like sprouts, eggs, sandwiches.
  • Reduce dinner quantity. Keep it light like soups, salads, veggies/ chicken/ fish.
  • Avoid canteen food as it is loaded with fats.
  • Avoid overeating.

These days, many obese people are turning to bariatric surgery. But should children be allowed to undergo this surgery at such a young age? Dr Goel answers some important questions on this topic. (Also read: Does bariatric surgery help you lose weight?)

Can all children opt for bariatric surgery?

He says that ideally this surgery is considered for adults above 18 years of age. However extremely obese children suffering from associated diseases can consider it. Even then, not all can undergo it as many lifestyle changes need to be made by both the family and child and they need to be ready for it. Girls above 12 years and boys above 15 are eligible for the surgery. As per international guidelines, children with BMI greater than 50 or greater than 40 with associated illnesses can be candidates for the surgery.

What precautions should they take after the surgery?

Children have special requirements as they are physically, psychologically and socially growing. They need regular counselling, nutritional requirements and support. This is only possible in a dedicated paediatric bariatric programme. Parents need to be supportive at all times for the child to overcome his illness.

So follow a healthy lifestyle and be a role model for your child to do the same. Don't let him be a couch potato and keep obesity at bay by eating healthy food at the right time.

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