Childhood Obesity – Weight Matters
The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled childhood obesity as the most serious public health problem of the twenty first century. There has been a dramatic increase in childhood obesity in the past couple of decades. It affects more than is 15% of children, making it one of the common chronic disease of childhood.
Though there may be some genetic tendency to develop obesity, most often life style is the major contributor. It is a lifestyle character which leads to many other problems in the future. An obese child can have psychological problems like stress and depression at a young age. It can also cause breathing problems and child may get tired easily. Obese children are also more susceptible to a variety of diseases such as, diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases, obstructive sleep apnoea and orthopedic and psycho-social problems.
“Over the past decade we have seen a change in the type of medical problems children are facing. This is partly due to the life style changes. Out of all these, most alarming is increase in Obesity amongst children. This change is primarily due to lack of focus on appropriate nutrition (can be called as Malnutrition) and physical activity. Easy availability of high calorie content foods combined with increased screen time (TV, Video games, Lack of sleep etc.) is leading to obesity. Obesity leads to a large range of health problems including Diabetes and Hypertension. It is a huge Psycho-Social problem in our community” Dr. Praveen Venkatagiri, MD (Paed), Medical director NCRI & consultant at Manipal Hospital & Nationwide clinic, Bangalore.
As part of our unique School Health Program, in the last 8 months, we have had the opportunity to screen 3159 students across three cities (Bangalore, Pune & New Delhi). Assisting us in our efforts were our healthcare partners Neonatal Care & Research Institute (Bangalore), Dr. Farzana Sheikh, MD (Paed) (Pune) and Ross Clinics (New Delhi). The initiative covered students in the age group of 1.8 years – 16 years and from some of the leading pre and K-12 schools.
One of the objectives of this initiative is to monitor the BMI of urban school going children and develop methods to address increase in cases of childhood obesity. All children were assessed using BMI charts suitable in an Indian context. Of the students screened, we figured that a very high number of students (~870) were either overweight or obese. And of those students, 289 were referred by our specialists for further nutritional assessment/evaluation.
The numbers are certainly disconcerting and convey the seriousness and the enormity of the problem staring at us. The numbers also do challenge a popular belief that boys are more likely to be overweight or obese as compared to girls. From our assessments, we figured that they may not be a very accurate assumption. Of the students assessed, the cases of overweight/obesity were quite evenly distributed between the genders.
Role of Schools:
Schools, with their organized structure and governance, can play a big role in reducing this epidemic. Certainly, schools cannot solve the obesity epidemic on their own, but it is unlikely to be halted without strong school-based policies and programs. With over 237 million school going children in India and 71 million in public schools, schools could be a great platform to design programs and help students adopt and maintain healthy eating and physical activity behaviors.
Role of Parents:
During our program, we frequently come across parents who are not very willing to accept the fact that their child might be overweight or obese. Typical comments being, my family physician says my child is fine, or, I don’t think there’s anything I can do right now because he/she is so young. That’s where we need a change in our attitude. Parents can do a lot to get the child on a healthy track and it’s more important than ever because of the reasons mentioned earlier.
What’s reassuring is the fact that fighting childhood obesity maybe easier than what parents believe. While genes play a part in the tendency to put on weight, diet and lifestyle make a huge difference. The earlier parents take preventive steps, the better. There are many ways parents can face this challenge but it is beyond the scope of this report to elaborate on those methods.
We, along with our partners, plan to continue in our efforts to highlight and bring to light similar health issues, which if not addressed early could spiral out of control. Issues related to developmental disorders, heart diseases and mental health are some of the other aspects which if diagnosed early can be treated better. Same time, these are issues which are getting increasingly prevalent, but, still talked about in a hushed manner.