Childhood obesity: a start to future diseases

Childhood obesity: a start to future diseases

Growing up in a traditional Indian setup, I am aware of how obsessed we are about healthy-looking babies. But there’s a fine line of difference between ‘healthy’ and ‘healthy-looking’, especially from an Indian perspective. For the longest time most people have associated excessive weight with good health. And as a result, the contents of the diets of children and teens go unchecked.

Sadly, the lack of informed care has led to a tremendous rise in the number of overweight and obese children, especially in developed countries with urban cities seeing a more pronounced manifestation of the problem.

Why should you be concerned?

The consequent problem that stems out of this situation is that overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and are at a greater risk of developing diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. Fat cells, especially those stored around the waist, secrete hormones and other substances that fire inappropriate inflammation that in turn interrupts the metabolic process in the body, leading to higher blood sugar levels and, eventually, to diabetes and its many complications.

Excessive weight is also directly linked to does blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and inflammation, thus upping the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Fat deposits on the body also have negative impact on respiratory functions, leading to Asthma and obstructive sleep apnea. Osteoarthritis is also a possible outcome of obesity as excess weight places mechanical and metabolic strains on bones, muscles, and joints.

How to find out if a kid is overweight or obese?

Overweight and obesity is defined as abnormally excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.The most commonly used measure for overweight and obesity is the Body Mass Index (BMI) —calculated by dividing the weight in kilograms by the square of the height in meters (kg/m2). This is a rough estimate of whether someone is overweight or obese.

Causes of obesity and excessive weight in children

Although child obesity could be hereditary, this one cause is easily reversible. The current crop of causes that have resulted in a mass infestation of the issue goes beyond genes. Unhealthy dietary patterns, with an alarming increase in junk food consumption, physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle in general, use of drugs and medication, and stress. Irresponsible media propagation of packaged food high in sugar and sodium and containing preservatives and trans fat and a general view of “tasty food” being different from “healthy food” has a marked influence on the diets of children.

Obesity is preventable and reversible

The bright side is that overweight and obesity, as well as their related diseases, are largely preventable. Here are some simple changes in your day-to-day lifestyle that could keep obesity at bay:

Encourage healthy eating habits. Educate children on the benefits of healthy food early on.

  • Include plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole-grain products
  • Substitute whole fat milk or dairy products low-fat or non-fat ones
  • Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils and beans as the source of protein, and as such, keep the meals protein-heavy, reducing intake of carbohydrates and fats
  • Serve medium size portions, and especially keep the last meal of the day light
  • Check consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, high-sodium packaged food and saturated and trans fat

Inculcate the habit of associating health with taste. Find healthier ways to cook their favorite foods. For example:

  • Pizza can be made healthy at home by adding lots of vegetables to the topping and using fresh cheeses instead of store-bought sauces
  • Replace French Fries with baked potatoes
  • Use healthy cooking oils
  • Use fruits and vegetables of different colors to make food look more palatable
  • Use whole-grain bread to make sandwiches and wraps
  • Whenever possible, include the kids in the process of making their food so as to make healthy eating more fun

While occasional treats of store-bought food in moderation is acceptable, it should not become a habit. Regular snacks need to be low-fat and low-sugar and as far as possible, natural. Some examples of easy-to-prepare snacks that are 100 calories or less are:

Photo credit: cottonbro from Pexels
  • A medium-size apple
  • A medium-size banana
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup grapes
  • 1 cup carrots, broccoli, or bell peppers with 2 tbsp. hummus
  • Assortment of boiled and lightly sautéed pulses
  • Salad made of sprouts

No matter how busy their schedule, moderate-intensity physical exercise of at least 60 minutes most days of the week, and every day if possible, either in form of sports, dance, aerobics or other activities should be a part of their daily lives. Exercising regularly has the following benefits:

  • Strengthens bones
  • Maintains normal blood pressure
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Helps increase self-esteem
  • Produces chemicals called endorphins in the body that give a sense of happiness
  • Helps kids stay active and alert both physically and mentally
  • And of course, helps with weight management
  • A scheduled time spent in exercising also reduces sedentary ‘screen time’ (TV, video games, Internet) that seems to be a huge problem of the generation.
Photo credit:Kamaji Ogino from pexels

Starting a new habit can be difficult but you could lead the way for your children. Add physical activity to your own daily routine and encourage your child to join you. Here are some types of physical activities to start with:

  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging
  • Playing tag
  • Jumping rope
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Playing soccer or any other sport involving a lot of physical movement

Health is a habit and the habits learned in childhood are the ones that last the longest. So make sure your child takes the correct route early on in life so as to ensure a better future, just like everything else.

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