“The rise in childhood obesity has placed the health of an entire generation at risk” - Tom Vilsack
‘Childhood Obesity’ is the latest challenge in the office of Pediatrics. The word “Childhood Obesity” was more prevalent in the western countries mainly in United States to begin with. Thanks to the current lifestyle, this is now more prevalent in India and starts as early as in toddlerhood. In fact India has the second highest number of obese children in the world. While genetics play a vital role in this, one cannot ignore the environmental and behavioural risk factors which are more common concerns for raising graph of childhood overweight.
Obesity Versus Overweight
A child weight plays a crucial role in revealing his health information. Overweight and Obesity has a very thin line of difference. A BMI above the 85th percentile means overweight, while children above the 95th percentile are considered obese, which increases their risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. The BMI percentile that defines severe obesity is 120% of the 95th percentile.
Factors Increasing Risk of Obesity in Children
1. Unhealthy Food Habits:
The new era is a fan of fast food, junk food and frozen food. All these types of food are highly rich in carbs and lack the required nutrition. There is a high risk of developing increased levels of sugar and cholesterol when consumed regularly leading to type 2 diabete and heart disease at very young age.
2. Lack of Exercises:
In metros and urban areas, due to lack of playgrounds and fear of safety, the number of children playing outdoor games has drastically reduced. This has created a major impact on children’s physical development. Children as small as 2 years old are stuck indoors glued to screens with minimal physical activity.
3. Missing Growth Charts
Maintaining growth charts from birth till at least 6 years of age is very important to track growth and development of children. Chubby babies always look cute. But obesity is visible from a very young age. Parents should be watchful of weight and height proportions of their children from an early stage. In medical terms this is called body mass index BMI which is also a measure of body fatness. If this is ignored in early years, overweight can lead to obesity in no time.
4. Sedentary Lifestyle
Sedentary was a word associated with old people. But this is now ironically getting associated with childhood. Children are leading a very sedentary lifestyle. Eating junk food and watching screens is increasing their indoor time and tremendously decreasing their outdoor physical activity.They are lacking healthy habits.
While Centers of Disease Control and Prevention have intervened big time and are working with communities and schools to take appropriate measures to avoid childhood overweight and obesity, there are a few preventive measures that as mothers we can take at home with our children.
1. Avoid Overfeeding
Mothers always feel they haven’t fed their babies enough. We always try to push and force the food to our children by various ways. We should respect our child’s diet and select appropriate portions to feed and avoid force feeding.
2. Balanced Healthy Diet
It is of utmost importance to give a healthy, fresh and a balanced diet that is rich in fibre, proteins and not more than 30% in fat. A conscious diet should be introduced as soon as we start solids with our babies. Toddlerhood is when this diet is bound to go out of track. Never loose this track.
3. No No to High Calories
Ensure the diet that is given to toddlers is not high in calories. The diet should be rich in fruits and vegetables. Replace whole milk with skim milk when kids turn two. Whole milk is too rich in fat and has a major role in obesity cases.
4. Encourage Active Play
Discourage non school related screen time and encourage lot of outdoor play and active play. Regular playtime with family and friends like sports and playground activities should be mandatory.
A comprehensive approach is definitely the most effective approach of addressing childhood obesity. This approach involves addressing the issue through nutrition and physical activity in collaboration with caregivers, parents, schools and other relevant community members. But as we say “Charity begins at home”, as parents let us be more vigilant and aware about overweight and obesity in childhood and take the right measures from an early age.
Early Intervention always goes a long way.