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World Obesity Day: Parents, that fat is not cute, it could be obesity!

Dr Anjana Thadani tells us more about the rising cases of obesity in children and what can be done to rectify the situation.

Written by Dr. Anjana Thadhani |Updated : October 27, 2015 9:46 AM IST

October 26 is World Obesity Day.

According to studies India will be the global diabetes capital by 2050 if the problems of abdominal and lower limb obesity and metabolic syndrome are not arrested in time. Children do not fall into the bracket of being in the category of obesity because they are termed healthy and not fat. But what we fail to realise is that this cute fat can develop into obesity very soon and can be very dangerous for your child. Dr Anjana Thadani, developmental paediatrician, tells us about childhood obesity, why it is important for us to take notice and what a parent can do to rectify the situation.

Lifestyle disorders have percolated really deep in our society. The changes in the lifestyle reflect in adults and children alike as a lot of contributory factors are common. Childhood obesity is an alarmingly increasing trend in urban India. Interestingly, in our country, we see both malnutrition and obesity, of course, in two different strata of the society.

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What is childhood obesity?

Obesity is defined as a 20% excess of calculated ideal weight for age, sex and height of a child. A child is said to be obese when there is an excess of accumulated fat in the subcutaneous tissue (below the skin) and other areas of the body. (Read: Tips to tackle childhood obesity)

A major concern

Today, childhood obesity is on the rise and a major public health problem. Globally, in 2010 there were estimated to be over 42 million overweight children below the age of 5, and 35 million of them are from developing countries; especially in urban areas. Globally, an estimated 10% of schoolchildren, between 5 and 17 years of age, are overweight or obese.

Situation in India

Studies show that in India, nearly 15 to 20% of children are overweight and 30% are in the risk of falling in this category. It is these statistics that ring major alarm bells. In India, many studies have shown that the prevalence of overweight among adolescents varies between 10% and 30%. Another important concern is that as high as 60 to 70% may continue to be overweight or obese in adulthood.

Contributory factors

The fundamental cause of childhood obesity is a drastic change in food habits consumption of energy dense, nutrient-poor foods and lack of physical activity contributes to an increase in calories as compared to the requirement. Low levels of physical activity, watching television, and consuming junk foods are associated with a higher prevalence of being overweight. Other factors are nuclear families with few children and unavailability of open spaces leave the children not much of a choice but to be home and spend hours watching television or be with the computer. Frequent relocation of the family also leaves the child lonely and at home.

Why worry

The reason childhood obesity has so many people worried is because it stays through adulthood, leading to a high risk for developing diabetes and cardiovascular problems. The child is often teased and bullied. This could lead to low self-esteem and depression and other psychological problems. This causes more isolation for the child. Being overweight can also cause breathing problems. Finding it difficult to breathe causes the child to shun exercising, causing a vicious circle.

Today, the changing scenario in urban and semi-urban cities has taken a toll on the development of child in his growing years. Usually both the parents go out for work and the child is left alone with no proper guidance. Television, internet and video games consume the maximum time of a child s routine. Parents try to give best to their child in the form of latest gadgets and other luxury goods, thus increasing the communication gap between themselves and the child and also pushing them towards obesity.

Vast use of gadgets and watching television for long hours can make the child obese which may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. New research has shown that children start showing signs of atherosclerosis (hardening of an artery that leads to heart disease) as early as 11 years of age. This is an extremely worrisome development, and we are seeing more and more teenagers and young adults coming with acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). (Read: 5 healthy recipes your kids will love)

What to do

It s high time that parents should realize the adverse effect of their child s habits and lifestyle. Excessive television viewing among young children has been linked to negative impacts on early brain development and lifelong physical health.

The lifestyle changes are mandatory and need to be modeled to the child by the parent. Food habits have to be altered for the entire household and would benefit all. The role of physical activity, games, and sports should be emphasized, and facilities should be provided for outdoor games in schools or neighbourhood. There is an urgent need to educate the urban community especially parents. It has to be caught early when the child starts looking healthy rather than when he becomes obese.

Management involves time allocation for TV and computer games and providing other interesting alternatives. Supervision and guidance through proper communication in case of older children is also helpful. Counselling may be needed in severe cases.

Image Source: Shutterstock

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