Obesity and Unhealthy Weight Gain in Children

Unhealthy eating habits can cause obesity and other health problems in children. Let’s look at ways of keeping our children healthy.

By Dr Suruchi Goyal Agarwal and Sherly Ganesh

Obesity and Unhealthy Weight Gain in Children

Being fat does not necessarily mean being fit, and this applies to children as well. But with rising awareness about health and nutrition, our views on health and fitness are also changing. Yet, in every Indian family, we can still find one family member who keeps complaining about how children are not being fed enough. This is because we consider children with chubby cheeks and a little paunch healthy. But doctors beg to differ. According to them, cute chubby cheeks may be an indicator of these children growing up into obese adults.

Based on the number of obese children worldwide, a report by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity of the World Health Organization estimates the number of overweight infants and young children to increase to 70 million by 2025.

Stopping this alarming trend would require the active involvement of both parents and health care experts. But before we delineate ways of curbing childhood obesity, let’s look at why children gain weight.

Obesity in children can be multifactorial, with lack of physical exercise and change in eating habits being major contributors. Some of the other reasons behind the increasing incidence of obesity in Indian children are:

  • Lifestyle changes – Exposure to gadgets like cell phones and computers has changed the lifestyle of children. They now prefer to spend most of their time sitting indoors in the company of these gadgets instead of going out and playing with friends.
  • Improper diet – Nowadays, most children consume high calorie foods with poor nutritional value like chips. Consuming packed and processed foods increases their body mass.
  • Hereditary – Obesity can also be hereditary. Children belonging to families with a history of obesity are likely to become obese if properly cared for.
  • Endocrine diseases – Several endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or other rare diseases can also cause obesity among children.

Childhood obesity increases the risk of developing many life-threatening ailments like diabetes, heart disease, stroke or cancer later on in life. Therefore, parents should make their children follow a daily exercise regimen involving aerobic exercises like dancing, running, jumping rope. Regular exercise burns extra calories and helps in maintaining optimum body weight. It also ensures proper functioning of organs like lungs and heart, and is vital for the development of strong bones and muscles. At least 60 minutes of regular moderate-intensity exercise is recommended for children of ages 5–17 years. But exercise alone is not enough to ensure good health. It is also important to provide children with a healthy diet and ensure that they stay away from obesity-inducing junk food. To help you understand and fulfil your children’s dietary requirements, we have prepared an easy-to-understand dietary requirements table and a sample menu.

Obesity and Unhealthy Weight Gain in Children
Obesity and Unhealthy Weight Gain in Children

Ways to keep your child away from the junk and processed food:

1. Never give junk or processed foods, or chocolate as a reward to your children. Instead, give them nutrient-rich dry fruits.

2. While shopping with your children, ask them to suggest foods that they would like to eat.

3. If your children avoid eating certain foods, discuss with them the nutritional value of those foods.

4. Instead of giving your children plain water, you can also give them fruit juices or shakes to keep them hydrated.

Dr Suruchi Goyal Agarwal, Consultant-Paediatrics and Paediatric Endocrinology, Columbia Asia Hospital, Bangalore.