Childhood obesity is on the rise in India, among rural and urban populations. Nip the problem in the bud by preventing it with these practical tips.
We Indians are a strange lot. When a baby is born, most people have a problem with the baby’s weight. They are constantly commenting about how the baby doesn’t ‘look healthy’. However they’re not only about the problem – they also come up with solutions! From feeding honey to massage, they have many techniques to increase baby weight.
However, once the child enters the adolescent years, the same people start commenting about the child’s weight, saying it’s time for him to cut down on the laddus. If you’ve lived in India for any length of time, I’m sure you’ll definitely identify with some version of this. Yet, many of us don’t realize the seriousness of the matter – the crucial health risks of obesity.
For a long time, obesity was considered a problem of first world countries like the United States, but this health disaster has now hit home. Here are a few facts about childhood obesity in India and the world.
- The International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO) and the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) estimate that 200 million school children across the world are either overweight or obese
- The WHO claims that over 50% of overweight children are in Asia
- India has the second highest number of obese children in the world – 14.4 million
- The Indian Journal of Medical Research has found that while the prevalence of overweight and obese children in urban homes is far higher than others, even lower income groups are not spared the double edged sword of obesity and malnourishment
- Childhood obesity is a greater problem in India because Indians have a higher risk of many non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular issues, diabetes and stroke compared to the people in other countries
What’s more, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that as the schools closed during the pandemic, obesity rates among children increased rapidly, mainly due to lower levels of physical activity and a higher consumption of fast food. It is due to all these reasons that the WHO warns us that childhood obesity is going to be a major health challenge in the coming years. Read on to know what exactly the risks of childhood obesity are.
Risks of Childhood Obesity
1. Children who are obese are at risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels which can lead to heart disease, heart failure, and stroke in adulthood
2. Being obese increases the risk of glucose impairment and insulin resistance, leading to Type-2 diabetes
3. Carrying extra body weight can put extra stress on the joints and bones, affecting their normal growth
4. Obese children tend to have more breathing difficulties like asthma and feeling out of breath, making any activity difficult
5. Childhood obesity increases the risk of sleep disorders like sleep apnea
6. Studies show that the longer a person is obese, the more severe their health issues become, which is why obese children have a higher chance to be obese adults
7. Childhood obesity is also linked to a higher risk of fatty liver and gallbladder disease
8. Obese or overweight girls can have irregular menstrual cycles, PCOD as well as fertility issues later
9. Obesity can cause kids to have emotional issues like low self-esteem and depression as they face social isolation
10. Obesity can lead to eating disorders and substance abuse in severe cases
While genetics plays a role, the most important reasons for obesity among children is bad diet, lack of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle. Unfortunately, these very habits persist into adulthood, which is why it’s so difficult to get rid of the extra weight later in life.
The best cure is of course, prevention, and it is easier to prevent obesity than treat it later. However, children require all the micro nutrients and macro nutrients in food so they can grow and develop properly. Due to this, severe calorie restriction won’t work. Instead, we’ve got some holistic tips to prevent childhood obesity so you can nip this problem in the bud.
15 Practical Tips to Prevent Childhood Obesity
Several studies talk about the health benefits of breastfeeding for babies and mothers, and one among them is the reduced risk of childhood obesity, especially if babies are fed directly from the breast. When babies feed from the breast, we can’t see how much they are taking in; they automatically stop when they’re full and we read their cues to understand that they’re done. The longer babies are breastfed, the less their obesity risk. Studies show that formula fed babies are naturally more inclined to become overweight, if not obese.
2. Make Healthier Versions of Favorites
It is natural for children to have a favorite food, and more often than not, it’s likely to be something high calorie and unhealthy, like fries, pizza or ice cream. Rather than completely banning these foods from your child’s diet, learn how to make healthier versions of these at home. We have a full post on ‘healthy junk foods‘ so your kids can enjoy their favorites and you don’t have to worry about obesity. It’s easier than you think!
3. Stock up on Healthy Snacks
One of the biggest source of empty calories in kids’ diets is their snacks. Most of us tend to stock up on cookies, biscuits and namkeens at home for when the kids have a hunger attack. At other times we offer them deep fried pakodas or fruit juices. It is natural for growing kids to feel hungry, but it is up to us as parents to ensure that their refueling is with healthy options. This is easier if you have ideas ready – veggie sticks and hummus, boiled eggs, chopped fruit salad, Greek yogurt, berries and bananas. Make sure there are specific snack times and that kids are not ‘grazing’ throughout the day.
4. Include Foods that increase Satiety
One reason children overeat when snacking is because their meals aren’t filling enough. Eating simple carbohydrates and less fiber causes us to get hungry faster. Prevent this by including foods that increase satiety, like vegetables, whole grains, dairy and lean meats. Ensure kids get at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day as well as some form of lean protein at least thrice a day. Lean protein can be chicken, fish, paneer, eggs, lentils, legumes and soy beans.
5. Limit Sugar Consumption
A high sugar diet is probably the number one reason for a variety of lifestyle disease among children and adults, especially considering that India is becoming the diabetes capital of the world. When we think of sugar-laden foods, we tend to think of ice creams and chocolates, but we miss out on all the hidden sugar in juices, sauces, breakfast cereals and various other ‘kid-foods’. If your child eats a lot of such foods, cut down on them gradually, so the change will be persistent. When making desserts at home, opt for natural, healthy sweeteners.
6. Keep a Clean Kitchen
No, we’re not talking about cleanliness; we’re talking about clean eating. If your children see candy when they open the cupboard or ice cream when they open the freezer, it will be difficult for them to restrict themselves and go for the healthy foods. So get rid of all the processed, sugary food from your pantry and fridge, and replace them with healthy foods. Beware of packaged foods that claim to be healthy – always read the ingredient list to know for sure.
7. Teach Kids about Serving Size
We know that we have to eat 5 servings of vegetables a day, but do we actually know how much a serving is? Not knowing the correct quantities of what we’re eating can result in consuming too much of something and too less of something else. Parents may need to educate themselves about serving sizes first, before teaching their kids, but it is worth taking the time to do that. Indian plates generally have too much of carbohydrate-rich foods and too little protein and vegetables, which is why we need to make a conscious decision to change that.
8. Eat at the Table
If your family or kids regularly eat in front of a screen, it could put them at risk for childhood obesity. Studies have shown that when families eat together at the table without any screens, they ate more fruits and vegetables and were less likely to overeat mindlessly. Even if the kids are eating by themselves, ensure that they do it at the table, and not while distracted by a screen. The Harvard School of Public Health has found that the more television children watch, the more likely they are to become overweight.
9. Adjust your Attitude towards Food
Many of us have complicated relationships with food, which we pass on to our children. Try to practice intuitive eating with your kids, encouraging them to eat when hungry and to stop before being completely full. Don’t insist on cleaning their plates when they don’t want to. Avoid using food as reward or punishment, and try not to make food the center of all your celebrations. Don’t ban their favorite unhealthy foods completely; instead, help them understand that these aren’t healthy, but it’s okay to have them once in a while. Rather than dictating what to eat and what not to, help them understand the nutritional value of everything so they can make informed decisions on their own.
10. Get them to drink more Water
Oftentimes, when kids declare that they’re hungry, they’re only thirsty. The fact is that by the time they realize they’re thirsty, they’re already dehydrated. Drinking enough water is crucial for growing children and all their metabolic processes. It also prevents eating in between meals and stops them from overeating at mealtime. Stick to plain water and avoid fruit juices or soft drinks which are bad for the teeth while also contributing to an obesity risk.
11. Ensure 1 hour of Physical Activity
After nutrition, it’s a lack of exercise that’s turning childhood obesity into an epidemic. Physical activity not only burns calories, it is essential for proper development of the bones and muscles and also has cognitive and mental health benefits. At least 60 minutes of strenuous physical activity can reduce anxiety, increases self-esteem and improves mood. Let the kids workout with you, or get them some toys that encourage physical activity. Make sure they get some intense activity like running or jumping that raises their heart rate.
12. Limit Screen Time
This is really hard with the pandemic confining kids classrooms and friends to screens, but you can still try to cut down screen time as much as possible. Encourage them to use screen time for classwork and not for entertainment. Even if they aren’t doing anything physically taxing, walking around with a book or moving to gather craft supplies will still prevent them from becoming couch potatoes. An increase in screen time has a direct correlation with a higher risk of childhood obesity.
13. Ensure Adequate Sleep
Have you noticed how your appetite seems all off when you don’t get enough sleep? It’s the same with kids, and it’s because of the imbalance of the satiety hormones that lets us know when we’re full. Lack of enough sleep is directly associated with childhood obesity. Being groggy also makes children less likely to get active, increasing their sedentary time. Ensure your kids have a fixed bedtime and help them wind down by switching off all screens at least a couple of hours before.
14. Take them Shopping
One great way to educate kids about healthy eating is to get them involved in the food planning and preparation process. Take them grocery shopping and teach them how to read labels. They may be surprised to see that a pack of ‘oats biscuits’ contains only 2% oats! Help them understand which produce is in season and why that’s beneficial. At home, let them help unpack everything and put them away. Primary school goers can help in meal prepping and packing. Older kids and teens can learn to make simple, healthy meals.
15. Be a Role Model
All these tips to prevent childhood obesity are of no use if you are only preaching them without practicing. As parents, you are your child’s biggest role models, even if they may not admit it. They are watching you all the time and are emulating their behavior. This is why family members tend to have similar eating habits and levels of fitness. Research shows that when a parent is overweight or obese, the child’s chances of becoming obese go up significantly. Make exercise a part of your daily routine and choose healthy foods whenever you are presented with options.
Please remember that these are tips to prevent childhood obesity. If your child is already obese, he or she will need a special diet plan from a qualified nutritionist. Deciding whether your child is overweight or obese is made based on the BMI or Body Mass Index. Please do not pass on your diet plan to your child – children’s nutritional requirements are different from adults and they vary with age.