Obesity in Children

Dr. M. Vijayalakshmi, M.D (Peds), M.D (USA), F.A.A.P

Obesity In Children

Obesity is a new problem emerging in the middle class in India especially in women and children .Obesity is now being labeled a global epidemic with the likes of global warming and the bird flu.

A study by All India Institute of Medical Sciences in schoolchildren in a public school in Delhi found the prevalence of obesity to be 7.4 % in children in the age group of 10 to 16 years. This is very likely to be representative of all major metros .It is a very disturbing trend because being overweight or obese increases the risk of many diseases like hypertension, Type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, arthritis etc. in adult life. Obesity in children is defined as Body Mass Index > 95 % of normal for age. BMI is a measure of fat content in our body and is calculated from height and weight.

Overweight and obesity results from energy imbalance, it involves eating too many calories and not getting enough exercise. Indian foods have been traditionally high in calories, but now families spend more than ever eating out and buying processed food. The explosive growth of the fast food industry with big players like McDonalds, Lays and Pizza Huts whose advertising specifically targets young children has accelerated the change in the eating habits.

Children are now less physically active than a decade ago. The rigorous school schedule followed by the after school academic and extracurricular training sessions leave the children with limited leisure time and they tend to choose sedentary activities like TV, videos and computer games. With increasing urbanization, there has been a decrease in frequency and duration of physical activities of daily living for children, such as walking to school and doing household chores. All these factors contribute to the excess weight gain.

Early recognition of the problem is the key to management. Pediatricians should incorporate assessment and anticipatory guidance about diet, weight, and physical activity into routine clinical practice. Parents have to be proactive in discussing these issues as well with the doctor. Breastfeeding is one of the earliest interventions that a mother can do to protect her child from future obesity.

Parents and caregivers can promote healthy eating patterns in infancy and toddler years by offering nutritious snacks, such as vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy foods, and whole grains; by encouraging children's autonomy in self-regulation of food intake and setting appropriate limits on food choices. Parents should be role models for children by following healthy food choices and they should limit the amount of TV viewing to less than 2 hours for the whole family.

Lifestyle choices and food habits play a large role causing people to be overweight and obese. These are the greatest areas for prevention and treatment actions.

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