Childhood obesity an emerging health concern in India

Rapidly changing lifestyles, growth of junk food culture, rising affluence and lack of awareness are factors that are driving an under-reported oft ignored epidemic in India that of increasing obesity. The increasing instances of childhood obesity are more widespread in cities like Ghaziabad which have in recent years adopted western food habits, a growing mall culture , and a lifestyle that is devoid of physical activity.

According to a study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in 2011, obesity in Delhi/NCR has reached an alarming stage with current figures indicating that every second person fulfills criteria of being overweight or has excess abdominal fat.

The prevalence of obesity is higher in upper socio-economic class (17.2% overweight and 4.8% obese) as compared to lower socio-economic class (4% and <1%, respectively) for obvious reasons. What is alarming on the global level is the fact that the rate at which childhood obesity is increasing in middle- and low-income countries is 30 per cent higher than the rate of increase in high-income countries, according to CSE.

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Worldwide, obesity in children have increased across a wide range of resource-rich and resource-poor countries during the past 50 years. Meanwhile, in India, obesity among school-aged youth is a growing public health concern particularly in cities and among affluent youth. Being overweight or obese puts you under a highly increased risk of diabetes at a very early stage. As per a study by ASSOCHAM conducted in 2014, one in 10 school going children between the ages of 13-16 years is overweight which increases risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) by over 35%.

Obesity in schoolchildren is a concern in cities like Ghaziabad. While there is rising awareness among adults about improving lifestyles, being overweight is not considered a concern vis- -vis children. The truth is 50-70% of obese children will remain obese adults. Our attitudes are makingchildren more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, said Dr Sanjay Sharma, Consultant, Pediatrics, Columbia Asia Hospital - Ghaziabad.

Genetic vulnerability plays an important role in development of obesity. There is strong evidence that genetic factors interact with environmental factors to cause obesity. While nothing can be done to change genetic factors, management of obesity is possible largely by modifying environmental factors like lifestyle, dietary habits and physical activity. Another rising concern today is shrinking of play areas for children and lack of safe playgrounds where children can indulge in physical activity. Changing preferences also mean that children spend more time in front of play stations and computers than spend sweating it out. This has to be tackled effectively, said Dr Sharma.

Role of family is very important in helping your children to lose weight. Parents should always take lead in following the above guidelines and present themselves as role models. Decreasing the frequency of eating out and encouraging family meals also is very helpful.

Doctors suggest 5-2-1-0 guidelines that are specifically designed to assure a healthy nourishment and development of children.

5-2-1-0 guidelines cover all the aspects required for a child s development and growth pushing obesity at bay. 5 stands for consuming 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. These servings can subsequently be increased to 9 servings per day. 2 is for reducing activities such as watching TV or playing games on computer or videogames to less than 2 hours per day. For children below two years, television should completed be avoided. Also, removing TV from the child s bedroom or where the child s sleep can prove to be effective. 1 is for encouraging your child to get involved in some kind of physical activities. While 60 minutes of unstructured play is most appropriate for young children, older children can opt for activities such as their favorite sports, dance, martial arts, bicycle riding, or walking. Lastly, 0 indicates zero intake or minimize consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, sports drinks, cold drinks and fruit drinks, said Dr Sharma.

Healthy diet for children

Nutritionist Neha Chandna recommends the following diet for kids:

  • Give your child cereals such as oats, brown rice, whole wheat, ragi, bajra, jowar.
  • Include pulses such as sprouts, dals,soya bean.
  • Don't forget milk and dairy products like curd, paneer, cheese.
  • Seasonal fruits are important too.
  • Meat, fish and eggs also make for a healthy diet.
  • Include green, leafy vegetables in their meals.
  • Cook meals in rice bran, olive or sunflower oil.

Also read other tips to curb childhood obesity.

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Photo source: Getty images (Image for representational purpose only)

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