Beyond Cute & Chubby: Why Are More and More Kids Obese in India?

When we think of India and nutrition, we typically conjure up images of severely malnourished, starving, bone-hungry children. Whether by forced stereotypes or not, we fail to notice and pay serious attention to the other side of malnutrition – obesity.

Currently, obese children around the world account for 150 million. This seems pretty steep already, but that number is supposed to rise to 250 million by 2030, according to a report in The Guardian that quotes a study by the World Obesity Federation.

The World Obesity Federation (WOF) report ranked India’s chance of reaching WHO target for 2025 of controlling obesity at a stark 0%.

FIT spoke to Dr Ajay Kriplani, director and head of the department for gastrointestinal and metabolic surgery at Fortis Memorial Research Institute to investigate why exactly childhood obesity is a very big deal in India.

Also Read: Being Overweight or Obese Could Damage Your Brain, Finds a Study

Chubby Babies Are Cute - So What’s the Danger? Experts Explain "“The danger with obese children is that they will mature into obese adults. There is almost 95% chance of this happening and this is the real problem as it leads to heart diseases and diabetes at a much younger age.”" - Dr Ajay Kriplani

Childhood obesity then is like a pandora's box of illnesses waiting to happen at younger and younger ages. Instances of heart attacks in your teens and diabetes before you are 20 are rising at a scary rate in India.

The WOF report titled the Global Atlas on Childhood Obesity outlined each country’s childhood obesity risk rate and detailed factors such as the current and predicted percentage of obese infants, adolescents, and teenagers and further divided this by gender.

It predicted that in India 2030 the percentage of children aged 5-9 with obesity would be 10.8% or approximately 12.6 million; whereas 6.2% or 14.7 million children aged 10-19 were predicted to be obese.

This totaled to a predicted 27.4 million obese children aged 5-19 in the India of 2030.

Obesity is a complicated disease that sneaks in almost undetected. But Dr Kriplani explains that on top of the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases at an earlier rate, there would also be a psychological impact.

He added that obesity could create mental health issues in young children as “obese children are more prone to depression as a result of bullying and social pressure.”

"“Childhood obesity is still taken very lightly, people think it is cute and will go like the rest of your ‘baby fat.’ I have operated on a 14 year-old who was 160 kgs and had become diabetic too. I have also operated on a few more obese teenagers who needed help.”" - Dr Ajay Kriplani

Also Read: Heart Disease, Stroke-Related Deaths on Rise Due to Obesity

Whose Problem is it? The Government, Parents Must step in

While chubbiness may be adorable on an infant, childhood obesity is no laughing matter.

According to the WHO, “obesity is one of today’s most blatantly visible – yet most neglected – public health problems.”

The WOF report also studied the solutions to childhood obesity, and if there were any current policies specifically to reduce this.

Each country was assessed for three types of policies:

  • Existence of any policies on the marketing of foods to children, 2017
  • Existence of policies to reduce physical inactivity, 2017
  • Existence of policies to reduce unhealthy diet related to NCDs, 2017

For this, India scored 2/3 as we have policies to reduce physical inactivity and to reduce an unhealthy diet. However, a crucial policy is missing - one that monitors and controls the marketing of foods to children.

This policy focusses on the supply side of the issue and targets businesses and curbs the relentless advertising of junk food to vulnerable and easily tempted children.

Dr Kriplani noted that, “Unhealthy food is delicious of course, and we are easily tempted. There needs to be more focus on regulating the intake.”

Noting that obesity is mostly an urban problem, he added than in urban areas, especially in India’s metros, most parents are both working. This means that it is often (understandably) harder for them to regulate their children’s food.

"“Schools need to regulate their canteens as this is where a lot of children find unhealthy, oily snacks and foods. WHO says that carbs are addictive, and so schools need to step in and make sure they are providing mainly healthy options.”" - Dr Ajay Kriplani

Beyond schools and parents though, policy-makers need to step in world-over to seriously address childhood obesity because while chubbiness may be adorable on an infant, childhood obesity is no laughing matter.

Also Read: After-School Programmes May Benefit Children With Obesity

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