Obesity is defined as having excess body fat, a condition that challenges adults as well as children. According to CDC, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Childhood obesity can cause lot of complications and health hazards. These complications are sometimes long term too.
Dr. Disha Saharia, who specializes in pediatrics, calls obesity a multifaceted problem. She identifies lifestyle as the main reason responsible for obesity, “we have become a more junk food eating sedentary society. As a result, childhood obesity is on the rise.”
Media too has a vital role in encouraging obesity in children. According to Dr. Saharia, children who watch more than two hours of TV a day are more likely to be obese. There is a definite causal relationship between extended media time and obesity.
Can obesity occur in undernourished children too? Dr. Saharia elucidates that, for many families it is cheaper and convenient to buy unhealthy food (chips, burgers, fries, pizza) than to buy and put together a healthy meal. This can lead to undernourishment along with obesity. She suggests a grassroots revolution (demanding our favorite fast foods to start serving healthier options) and legislation addressing the needs of the children in these situations (addressing food deserts, more community gardens to grow vegetables, more green spaces for children to play in, better school lunch programs). Reducing food wastage is another effective way to make food more affordable, thereby making healthier options of food available to people.
What about the food served in school cafeteria? Do they provide ample nutrition to children without building upon extra calories? Alluding to the quality and nutritional value of the food served in school cafeteria Dr. Saharia says that, although schools do try to create a healthy menu, many improvements can be made within their lunch program – using fresh ingredients instead of canned as well as encouraging children to eat more salads, fruits and vegetables during lunch. There is great variability between different schools; few are encouraging more healthy lunch options.
Summarizing prevention measures, Dr. Saharia points out that it is easier to prevent obesity than to combat it once it has established itself. Once the diagnosis is established, the following changes made in the habits of the family as a whole helps fight obesity:
– Regular exercise, at least one hour a day with family/ friends
– Eating only healthy foods, with half the plate full of vegetables and fruit, 1/4 with protein and 1/4 with the carbohydrate. About five helpings of fruit and vegetables in a day
– No sugared drinks, except water or milk.
– Creating an understanding in children that junk food is only a treat, and not a part of a regular meal.
– Limiting media time.
– Addressing any issues which contribute to the problem (depression, inaccessibility to places for exercise, etc.)
– Eating as a family and not eating too fast.
Dr. Disha Saharia who took up pediatrics because of her love for children, says that in order to have a smarter, healthier next generation, we have to start with kids, as they will become the next generation. “They have not yet formed strong habits, so are more likely to change for the better, they are also a lot of fun to work with!”
Dr. Anubhuti Shukla who is a dentist calls obesity a problem that affects almost all sections of the world population. She says, “It is not uncommon to see even small kids dealing with this issue. Childhood obesity is increasing at an unimaginable rate. Since obesity and low self-esteem go hand in hand, this condition is hazardous physically, mentally as well as emotionally.”
Dr. Shukla who has worked with many children and youth, shares her concern about the problems associated with obesity on the emotional level. She points out that even among children, looks occupy a high position; obese children are often bullied in school for looking different. Increased peer aggression and teasing, makes them hesitant to socialize, hampering their self-esteem and causing depression in many cases. The impact of this undesirable mental condition lasts for the rest of their life, if not addressed on time.
Contemplating the relation between obesity and emotional health, Dr. Shukla suggests parents to be more involved in the life of their children and to encourage them to face a problem and overcome it. Spending quality time within family combats emotional breakdown and loneliness, the main causes of depression.
Dr. Shukla remarks that if parents are thoroughly involved and present in the life of their children, children will make better choices. Excessive television, computer, fast foods that are the crucial factors leading to obesity will be easier to contest.
She asks parents to, “Be present and available in children’s lives always. Please do not wait to intervene till the point where damage is already done!”
Comprehensive Report on Texas Public Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://tea.texas.gov/acctres/comp_annual_index.html
Obese Youth Over Time. (2015). Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/obesity-youth.htm