Living up to our reputation as being a land of paradoxes, we are one of the few countries where malnutrition and obesity in children are turning out to be equally acute problems. On the issues of malnutrition, a lot is being done by several NGO’s and government health agencies. While the efficacy of many such programs could be questioned, the intent is definitely there.
However, the question that’s increasingly starting to worry health policy makers is whether we are turning a blind eye to the issues of obesity in urban kids. Childhood obesity was once considered a problem of affluent countries but the past few years has seen a noticeable increase in overweight and obese children among affluent families in India.
A recent study conducted by All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 5 cities and covering 40,000 kids revealed that 14% of children were overweight or obese. If we extrapolate that number to urban youths across country, we are looking at almost 15 million overweight or obese children. During the past three decades, obesity rates have doubled for preschool-age children and adolescents and tripled for school-going children aged 6 to 11 years. Three out of every ten kids studying in a private school are obese, says a survey done by the Diabetes Foundation of India.
There are several factors for this rise in childhood obesity. The drift towards an urbanized population, sedentary lifestyle, and improved socioeconomic conditions are some of the primary reasons. Increasingly, kids in urban areas are spending majority of their time in schools, tuition, watching TV or playing indoor games. To add to this their intake comprises a wide variety of junk food.
So, why is childhood obesity of such concern? Overweight children have a very high risk of being diabetic. In fact as per Diabetes Atlas, we have the largest number of children with type-1 diabetes, 112,000. Apart from diabetes, obese kids are more prone to developing hypertension, heart disease, depression and vitamin A deficiency. Add to this, Overweight children have a 70% chance of being an overweight or obese adult, by which time it may be too late to intervene.
As Dr. Peter Atia mentioned in his recent TED talks, being obese may not just suggest that we are looking at a slippery slope ahead, but, it could be symptomatic of something that has or is already going wrong. So, the question to all of us, are we just going to sit back and watch till it becomes a full fledged epidemic?