An epidemic…yes, you read it right. That’s the grim reality of the imbalance and disproportion in terms of both, the vital stats of the population, and the age of the population it is hitting!
India has the second highest number of obese children in the world (14.4 million), next only to China. The reasons for childhood obesity are obvious – outdoor play time has been increasingly replaced by screen time, the all-pervasive presence of processed (read ‘junk’) foods, and of course surplus domestic staff in the urban household.
Another culprit is our own attitude. A chubby child is often mistaken to be ‘cute’ and ‘healthy’, and a thin child is considered weak. When the chubby child grows up to be an obese adult, then he/she joins a gym/fitness center and goes to a dietitian to get rid of his ‘cute chubbiness’.
Overweight/ obese children run a risk of growing into obese adults who are at a higher risk of lifestyle related disorders like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and thyroid/ PCOD in the case of the fairer gender.
Improving the entire family’s diet and exercise habits is one of the best ways to achieve a fit and healthy body with a desirable weight and a healthy lifestyle in kids.
- Encourage intake of natural whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.
- Introduce your child to all available seasonal fruits and vegetables by the age of 2 or 3.
- Children should be introduced to dishes traditionally consumed by our ancestors as per season and festivals.
- A soft strategy to introduce foods like leafy veggies, broccoli, pumpkin and such stuff is to incorporate them into soups, sauces, dips, dishes like pav bhaji, kebabs and rolls. These dishes can be introduced alongside a favorite dish of the child.
- Limit intake of processed foods as they carry excess sugar, salt, fat and additives like preservatives, artificial colors, flavor enhancers et al.
- Decide on a certain frequency of eating out/eating junk that is acceptable to both. Try to stick to the essential agreements and remember, if you falter, your child WILL falter.
- Try to prepare their favorite junk dishes at home while making healthy substitutions.
- Serve small portions.
- Encourage kids to recognize fullness signals. If you force them to eat after they are full now, they are very likely to learn to ignore fullness signals as they grow up and overeating becomes a way of life, paving the way for obesity.
- Lead by EXAMPLE, it is the easiest and most fool-proof way to induce favorable behavior.
- Emphasize the importance of physical activity.
- Reduce sitting hours.
- Organize family outdoor events like playing a sport, cycling, camping, trekking, going for nature walks etc.
- Don’t body shame them, do not compare them to anyone. Overweight/obese kids need to be dealt with a lot of sensitivity, love and patience. A few harsh words can jeopardize their self-esteem.
One of my favorite one-liners is ‘Eating better got easier when I can’t have that turned into I don’t want that’. Our kids are the future of our nation. Let’s build a healthy nation!