Trisha is in class 9 and her little brother Vikram is in class 4. They are lovely children with impeccable manners and a sunny disposition. However, both the siblings share a common problem - they are obese. This has landed them in many uncomfortable situations. They are emotionally scarred when others pass crude comments on their weight. They have become very slow and dull in their activities, which is causing embarrassment to them and their parents. This situation has left the whole family upset.
Childhood obesity is a real threat that has far-stretching ill effects. Studies have found that obesity causes various health problems in children. A 2005 study by DS Freedman et al published in the journal Pediatrics confirms that children who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk for health problems such as heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, respiratory issues and osteoarthritis.
Obesity and the discomfort it causes can also have a psychological bearing on a child. It can lead to low self-esteem and demotivation. It can also be discouraging for children, making them feel bad about themselves.
Childhood obesity is on the rise worldwide. This modern lifestyle issue is alarmingly on the rise in India too. According to data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015, and cited by The Times of India, the incidence of obesity in children and adolescents in India has increased. In the years between 2010 and 2015, prevalence of obesity among children and teens have increased from 16 per cent to 29 per cent.
Causes of childhood obesity
But, what is causing this rise in obesity among children? Mrs Vandana Luthra, Founder, VLCC, says childhood obesity begins from infancy. Says she, “Mothers have a tendency of overfeeding babies who have a low birth weight. They feel that giving them more milk will help them become fat. This increases their demand for food but their stomach is still small.” She also states that many mothers begin feeding solids to their child when the child is just four months old. This should not be done as the baby’s digestive system is not yet ready to process solid food.
Modern lifestyle and adolescent obesity
When it comes to adolescent obesity, skipping breakfast and consuming greasy and oily food are major factors. Mrs Luthra reveals some findings from a parental awareness workshop that VLCC had conducted in Delhi Public School. She states that many children often leave for school without drinking milk. They do not even carry their tiffin and eat a lot greasy food from the school canteen. Once back in home, if the mothers are working, many children order pizza in the evening and eat food like aloo paratha for the night. They also consume a lot of sugary, aerated drinks. Many children do not engage in active sports or games and lead a sedentary life. By following a routine like this, children soon become overweight or obese.
Ways to tackle childhood obesity
With many factors leading to childhood obesity, how can parents fight this menace?
Mrs Luthra and her team at VLCC come to the parents’ rescue with counselling and nutritional support. Mrs Luthra emphasises on the need for parents to ensure that children eat breakfast every morning, even if the children are fussy eaters. She mentions how even in her own house, when her grandchildren create a fuss about eating, she lets them play their favourite video game while feeding them at the same time. Says she, “If children do not want to eat bread or egg in the morning, just give them a glass of milk with a spoon of supplement like PediaSure or Horlicks. Feeding them even five almonds and one walnut with milk is enough. But just don’t let them skip their breakfast.”
She also stresses on the importance of packing a healthy lunch for children. She says, “What children should carry in their school tiffin is not junk food, but some healthy options like a vegetable paratha with less ghee. I won’t say don’t give parathas to children, but give them parathas with 50 per cent less oil than normal. People are also under the impression that desi ghee is bad; however, homemade ghee is not bad. You should use it in correct quantity. You should know how much to use and what variety to use.” Further, she opines that occasional moderate indulgence in junk food is not bad. Parents should just ensure that the nutritional requirements of a child are fulfilled.
Small changes go a long way
Mrs Luthra states that simple changes to our everyday food menu can make a lot of difference in the nutritional value of the food. She says, “For example, you can enhance the nutritional value of rotis by just adding some vegetables, paneer or potato, ajwain, salt and milk. This ensures that your child’s calcium and protein requirements are met, while the food still tasting good. Similarly, adding chokar (wheat bran) to your child’s vegetable pulav can make him feel full faster, while also satiating his taste palate.”
Apart from unhealthy food habits, lack of physical activity is also a major factor that leads to obesity in children. With the onset of technology, many children are glued to laptops and social media; playing games online. This has led to a decline in their physical activity, thereby leading to a rise in obesity. Therefore, parents must encourage the children to go out and play, even if it is for 20 minutes a day. It can help them feel fresh and active, and improve their self-esteem and confidence. Activities such as swimming and cycling are very helpful in shredding those extra kilos.
Childhood and adolescent obesity pose a serious threat to many parents; however, Mrs Luthra assures that parents can safeguard their children from the clutches of obesity. All they need to do is ensure their children eat healthy and have adequate physical exercise. This is easily achievable by making few lifestyle changes, and it is the children who are going to grow into healthy and happy adults. Isn’t it every parents’ dream!
Mrs Vandana Luthra is the founder of VLCC, an internationally recognised name in the beauty, health and wellness industry. A visionary, and a successful woman entrepreneur, Mrs Luthra is also a Padma Shri, and the Chairperson of the Beauty and Wellness Sector Skill Council (B&WSSC), a training initiative undertaken by the Government of India as part of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana scheme.