Lifestyle and environmental changes are increasingly bringing childhood obesity to Indian children.
A study done in Delhi using BMI (Body Mass Index) criteria among affluent adolescent children (aged 10 - 16) found 25% overweight and 7% obese. There was slightly more obesity among boys vs girls1. So almost a third of the adolescent children in the study were overweight or obese.
A study in Ludhiana among affluent adolescent children found 13% overweight and 3% obese2.
A study in Pune among affluent boys found 20% overweight and 6% obese3.
The trend also seems to start early in life. A study done in Mangalore (which is a far less urban city than the major metros) with children aged 2 - 5 years, showed 5% were overweight and 1% were obese4.
In June 2008, Indian Pediatrics (www.indianpediatrics.net), the journal of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics featured a number of articles, including a letter from the President of the IAP5, focusing on childhood obesity in India.
Effects of childhood obesity
Overweight and obesity are linked to various health conditions including heart diseases, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes. In addition, it has psychological effects on the child's self esteem, leading to depression especially if compounded by teasing/cruelty from peers.
There are number of factors contributing to this obesity:
- Intake of energy-dense foods like fast food, chips, cookies, biscuits etc.,
- Consumption of sugar-rich processed juices and juice-like products
- Reduction in physical activity and active play
- Increased TV viewing (and the consequent advertising of foods/beverages etc.,)
- Electronic entertainment, computer gaming and surfing
- Sedentary lifestyles of parents
The vast reduction in urban play areas, and increase in traffic even on minor roads has also greatly reduced the spaces that children can play in.
What should parents do?
- Start by making your lifestyle healthy
Children learn from their parents. When parents pursue physically active lifestyles, with good eating habits and controlled TV viewing, then our children will do the same. So the next time you decide to be sedentary for 8 hours on a Saturday, watching India play a one-day cricket game, think of what your child is getting out of it.
- Foster healthy eating in your child
Use fresh vegetables, fruits, and nuts in your cooking. Reduce fried food and calorie-rich food. Train your children from an early age to eat vegetables, fruits etc., Set a limit on how many times you eat out in a week, especially calorie-rich foods like pizza, burgers, chinese food, icecream etc.,
To educate your children, adopt a terminology from Sesame Street (Thanks Elmo!) - "Anytime foods" (healthy) and "Sometime foods" (Consumed occasionally). By classifying every food between these two easily understandable categories, you can teach your children a simple way of distinguishing between foods.
- Control TV time and computer time
Set clear guidelines on TV time and computer time. Ensure they are enforced. If you do this consistently, your children will know that you mean business. Lead by example. Restrict TV viewing time for children to 2 hours or less per day.
- Get children out of the couch
Get your child out of the couch/sofa/bed. Take them out to the beach, or a park or for a walk. Try to walk for small errands near your home and take your child with you. Get them involved in sports and games and encourage them at it. Experts recommend that children should have at least 1 hour of physical activity virtually every day5.
Give your children chores around the house. Get them involved in your activities and give them the responsibility to do some small things. Keep changing this, so they feel that it is new and the stay motivated.
Above all, stay involved with your child and his or her activities. Play with them, eat with them, and teach them. An involved parent who fosters healthy habits, bestows the invaluable gift of healthy living on their children.
1. Umesh Kapil, Preeti Singh, Priyali Pathak, Sada Nand Dwivedi, Sanjiv Bhasin "Prevalence of Obesity Amongst Affluent Adolescent School Children in Delhi" Indian Pediatrics 2002; 39:449-452
2. Khadilkar VV, Khadilkar AV "Prevalence of obesity in affluent school boys in Pune", Indian Pediatrics 2004; 41: 857-858
3. T Aggarwal, RC Bhatia, D Singh, and Praveen C Sobti "Prevalence of Obesity and Overweight in Affluent Adolescents from Ludhiana, Punjab" Indian Pediatrics 2008; 45:500-502
4. HN Harsha Kumar , Padma Mohanan, Shashidhar Kotian, BS Sajjan , and S Ganesh Kumar "Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity Among Pre-school Children in Semi Urban South India", Indian Pediatrics 2008; 45: 497-499
5. Agarwal RK, President's Page "Childhood Obesity: Emerging Challenge", Indian Pediatrics 2008; 45:443-444