Childhood obesity: an invisible epidemic

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018
childhood obesity: an invisible epidemic

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”- John F. Kennedy

After my first article on obesity in adults, I thought that I must write next about childhood obesity; after all, children are our best hope for the future. As I started reading, I was taken aback when I came across this statement- “It is widely believed that the cohort of children born in the year 2000 in USA may live sicker or may not outlive their parents.” This is one of the most profound statements I have come across in the recent times. With 19.3% of Indian children being overweight and obese, we are already staring into an epidemic of childhood obesity [1]. This also means that India has to deal with a paradoxical “double burden” of mal-nutrition in children on one hand and obesity on the other.

It is said that while genetic loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger. This is especially true in the case of childhood obesity. There is no doubt that obesity runs in the family and heredity plays an important role. However, the influences are largely environmental. In the last 30 years there has been a drastic change in our environment. Fast food industry has exploded with an abundance of calorie dense, processed junk food. Mall culture has pervaded every tier one and two city. Today our children have very little “sweat equity”.

I remember, I used to cycle five kilometres to school as a kid. My son is growing up in the city of Mumbai and he goes to school in a private car. My school had a sprawling play-ground, while today there are fewer open places for kids to play. Most school buildings today, are like big boxes and very few of them can boast of something as basic as a play-ground. Today our children are stuck to their devices and even a one year old infant knows how to scroll pictures on a smart phone and can identify the you tube icon. 

This is also the first time in the history of advertising, that children are being targeted constantly. In the garb of attractive colourful packaging, companies are selling more and more sugar loaded cereals. 

It is said that while genetic loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger. There is no doubt that obesity runs in the family and heredity plays an important role. In the last 30 years there has been a drastic change in our environment. Fast food industry has exploded with an abundance of calorie dense, processed junk food

The rates of childhood obesity parallel those of adult obesity. This has led to a steep rise in the incidence of chronic diseases amongst children. In the last few years, disease spectrum has changed drastically and today doctors are seeing a significant number of children and adolescents who suffer from type 2 diabetes mellitus, once a disease found only in adults.

Obesity is a chronic progressive disease and it leads to detrimental effects on all parts of the body.  Moreover, the effects start immediately and signs and symptoms show much later. If the problem is not recognized and checked early, these effects are less likely to reverse. Obesity can also be incredibly isolating for a child and may lead to permanent psychological effects which may not reverse even if weight loss happens at a later stage.

Obesity is a silent killer. One out of five Indian children are either overweight or obese. These are apalling statistics. There is an urgent need to address this issue and we need to take concrete steps to make a difference as soon as possible. 

Unfortunately, we do not have a cure for obesity and prevention is the way ahead. Schools and parents are the biggest influencers in a child’s life and I believe, that is where we need to begin with. Children emulate their parents and hence it is important that parents themselves become an example of good health. Same goes for schools. Schools are not the root cause of childhood obesity but they can certainly be the place for the solution. Children must be taught to respect and take care of their bodies and value of good health must be instilled from an early age. Schools and parents need to work in conjunction with the medical fraternity to teach our children lessons of a lifetime of good health. Because…. ultimately, children are the true agents of change and one healthy kid can change the health quotient of the entire family!


The writer is a noted bariatric and laparoscopic GI Surgeon, Mumbai

References:

1.    IJMR. 2016 Feb; 143(2): 160–174. Epidemiology of childhood overweight & obesity in India: A systematic review. Harish Ranjani et al

Comment

moral of the above article :------ Parents should set an example of good healthy lifestyle Of their own in front of their kids ...One out of every five kids is either obese or overweight! shocking truth

SACHIN KHODADE    2018/04/29 12:35:50

Nice article.

Dr Shubhangi Chavan    2018/04/25 11:04:38

Good article...hope now people will understand unhealthy love towards theirs kids

Dr Vishal Sharma     2018/04/25 06:33:49

Excellent information. A wake up call for parents.

Rajesh Gupta    2018/04/24 07:29:11

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