India's Big Fat Weight Problem

14/05/2016 8:26 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Childhood obesity. Boy measuring his stomach with a measuring tape. Childhood obesity is an increasing problem in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Causes include diets high in junk and fatty foods and a lack of physical exercise.

My first sports related achievement was a third place finish in the 100-meter race on 'Sports Day' in the first grade. The fact that I spent most of my school life being overweight/borderline obese made sure it was my last until college. I lost the weight eventually; a six-week badminton camp coinciding with a growth spurt took care of it, and I am now extremely fit. I represented my college in volleyball and badminton. Despite all this, I still regret not being more athletic in school. After I started foodnetindia, I did some digging, and I realized that I was actually one among a growing number of Indian children who fell prey to childhood obesity.

Childhood obesity is on the rise in India. A 2016 study published in the Indian Journal Of Medical Research found that 19.3 percent of children and adolescents were either overweight or obese since 2010, compared to 16.3 per cent between 200 and 2005. The study also pointed out that the rise in obesity among children and adolescents was not restricted to higher socio-economic sections of society, but is also prevalent among lower socio-economic groups.

Childhood obesity is a forerunner to metabolic syndrome, poor physical health, mental disorders, respiratory problems and glucose intolerance, all of which can continue into adulthood.

A study published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism noted that childhood obesity appears to be influenced by eating calorie-dense food, high in fat and sugars. Another study pointed out that another factor affecting childhood obesity is a lack of nutrition awareness among parents. Changing lifestyles, availability of calorie-rich food, and less physical activity also appear to be possible factors potentially resulting in kids being overweight or obese.

Childhood obesity is a forerunner to metabolic syndrome, poor physical health, mental disorders, respiratory problems, and glucose intolerance, all of which can continue into adulthood. Another study pointed out even more serious potential side effects of childhood obesity, including insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The study also pointed out the link between childhood obesity and adult mortality.

Prevention is the best way to deal with childhood obesity. The developed world has been dealing with this problem for a while now. We in India can definitely try to learn from the experience of the first world. It has been suggested that the Government formulate a national policy to tackle childhood obesity, and partner with the private sector to help deal with the problem. The same study goes on the suggest several specific measures to tackle obesity in kids, including:

  • creating a state-level database to track childhood obesity within different regions;
  • endorsement of healthy lifestyles by celebrities;
  • restricting junk food advertising;
  • nutrition and health forming an important part of school curricula, along with mandatory daily physical exercise.

It is very easy to say 'eat healthy, work out, and you'll be fine'. But obesity is not just a health problem, it is actually what I consider to be a result of a major food safety issue. The problem is the enormous, unsafe increase in the amount of sugar and fast food that children are consuming. Children are eating and drinking excessive calories and a disproportionate part of it is coming from simple starches and sugars. Parents, teachers and other guardians must understand that this is a food safety problem and ensure that the food the kids eat does not lead to obesity.

I was obese for most my school days, and I hated it. There were so many things I just couldn't do, and not all of it was related to physical activity. I developed self-confidence issues as well. Being an overweight kid is a horrible experience. It's all up to you, parents! Don't let your kids go through it as I did!

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