Tackling Obesity Early In Life
Children should be made aware of the side effects and disadvantages of consuming high salt, high sugar containing processed foods or snacks and also the ready beverages
Obesity has now become a global epidemic and is among the foremost public health problems in the world. The term obesity is defined as a complex disorder of various causes characterised by excess of body tat that affects health. Obesity primarily was a problem in the developed countries in the initial years.
However, the Asian and South Asian countries including India, have now caught up with their Western counterparts and are facing the challenges of obesity. This is quite a paradox because in India, malnutrition ¡s significantly prevalent, especially in largely rural and interior sectors and yet, the country is battling the problem of obesity and its related diseases in the semi urban and urban areas.
A Problem of Plenty?
Is obesity a problem of plenty? The basic cause of obesity is a mismatch between the greater consumption of calories or energy and the energy expenditure by the body with the subsequent excess, causing this energy to be stored as tat cells, This later alters certain hormonal and nutrition-related signals In the body leading to obesity and the sequelae of its problems.
Health Risks of Obesity
Being a complex disorder, obesity is associated with dysregulation of fat metabolism, endocrinal abnormalities, including insulin resistance and changes in liver function due to fat deposition, abnormalities in the circulatory system, gall bladder and digestive system and in lung function.
This translates to an increased risk of development of what is commonly considered as lifestyle diseases including hypertension, Type Il diabetes mellitus, coronary vascular diseases like heart attacks and heart dysfunction and cerebrovascular diseases like stroke, bone, and joint degeneration and abnormalities.
Even with the rising trend of obesity worldwide, what is more, worrying is the marked increase in the prevalence of obesity in childhood and adolescence. An obese child usually becomes an obese adult. This is particularly seen, if either one or both parents are obese. This is because our body size and composition depends on a complex interaction between our genes and our environment background.
What has pushed up this tremendous surge in the prevalence of obesity over the past 30-40 years, is obviously related to the changes in our way of living, our food habits and our environment, which has led to an increase in our energy intake and reduction in our physical activity.
Also, the easy availability of food, lesser home cooking, eating outside more often, an availability of and dependence on snacks or convenience foods, greater spending capacity, larger portion sizes, increased consumption of sugary beverages- all these factors coupled with our busy lives, makes us more sedentary along with a marked reduction in physical activity. Hence, we are pushed towards being an overweight/obese nation.
Inculcating Good Eating Habits
The changes in food habits can be easily detected among children and these can be carried onto their adult lives too. However, Indians consider a chubby child to be a healthy child, so what they should eat, or what should be bought when shopping for food and groceries is not taken into consideration.
What parents should realise is that processed, packaged foods are convenient, but the gain in the calories from a young age leads to a slow kill. Even minor differences between the energy intake and expenditure over a period of time, have a cumulative effect. For example, a regular intake of five per cent more calories than what is spent over a year! can lead to almost 5 per cent weight gain, all in the form of fat!
How Obesity Affects Youngsters
This global epidemic of obesity has already had disastrous consequences on the health of our younger generation. We now see the consequences of obesity including heart attacks, diabetes mellitus, fatty liver and other cardiac ailments in young adults in their twenties, So, if there is a need to tackle the problem of obesity, it should be started at its initial stage of development.
An obese child usually becomes an obese adult. This is particularly seen, if either one or both parents are obese
Health education inputs, nutritional counselling and constant priming of the benefits of low calorie healthy eating, both at home by parents and at the school level should be focussed upon. Children should be made aware of the side effects and disadvantages of consuming high salt, high sugar containing processed foods or snacks and also the ready beverages.
It is also extremely important to focus on physical activity, including sports as part of a child’s lifestyle. Games and sports at school and at home should be a part of every child’s routine as maintaining a fit and healthy body from a young age leads to a physically fit and healthy adult, if well-maintained. So it’s best to start inculcating these healthy lifestyle changes and choices to children right now.