January 21, 2022

RISE OF OBESITY AMONGST THE CHILDREN DURING THE PANDEMIC AND THE WAY FORWARD

  • The author of the article is Dr Ruchi Parikh – Consultant, Pediatric Endocrinology.

Obesity amongst children and adolescents has been a cause of concern since last few decades. What is more concerning is that childhood obesity in India ranks second-highest in the world, thus posing a significant public health concern. These children are at a risk of developing serious health complications like Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, hypertension, high cholesterol and triglycerides, obstructive sleep apnea, fatty deposits in the liver which can lead to liver damage, bone and joint problems and teasing or bullying by their peers which can affect their self-image and confidence. They are more likely to become adults with obesity and develop diabetes, heart ailments, stroke at a younger age along with an increased risk of cancer and premature death. Thus, the major goal is to halt this rise of overweight/obesity and related co-morbidities right in childhood.  Obesity is interplay of genes and environment. Hence, our environment needs to be modified by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

In the present situation of the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdowns, there has been a substantial rise in obesity amongst the children and adolescents. Lockdown measures have led to school closures and online schooling, restrictions on leaving the house or meeting people or pursuing outdoor play and sports. This has led to more increase in calorie intake, sedentary lifestyle and increase in screen time (educational and recreational).

  • What is the way forward?

It is pertinent to lead a healthy lifestyle together as a family. Parents should be the role model for children for healthy eating habits, regular physical activity and restricted screen time

  1. HEALTHY EATING:
  2. It includes more portions of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole-grain and nuts along with healthy snacking in between and 10-12 glasses of water daily.
  3. Healthy mealtime behavior includes: No force feeding, eat when hungry not when bored or tired and have regular meal times. Eat together as a family without any conflicts.
  4. Restrict fast foods/processed foods to specific occasions. Minimize salt, sugar and saturated fats. No aerated/sugary drinks.
  • PHYSICAL ACTIVITY:
  • Facilitate physical activity in young kids.
  •  Encourage 60 minutes of daily vigorous physical activity in older kids.
  • SLEEP HYGIENE:
  • Ensure early and adequate sleep of 8–10 hours daily.
  • REDUCE SCREEN TIME:
  • Children below 2 year should not be exposed to any screen.
  • Children between 2-5 years should have maximum of 1 hour per day and above 5 years, less than 2 hours per day of supervised screen time.
  • Avoid screen time while eating and prior to bedtime.
  • COVID-19 Pandemic and the restrictions have given us an opportunity:
  • To eat healthy and home-cooked freshly prepared food as a sit-down, family meal.
  • No time constraints on physical activity and exercise. With restrictions on use of open grounds, we can adapt to use our home ground for a variety of aerobic exercises and yoga. This can be extended to include the entire family as a team health goal.
  • Due to online homeschooling or hybrid mode of classes, screen view has increased. This can be limited to just schooling screen exposure and restrict other leisure screen activities. To this, an added advantage is to provide children with an opportunity to follow their creative hobbies or develop new ones.
  • Nutrition and physical activity classes should be encouraged by schools on a regular basis.
  • Sleep can be better regularized.
  • Children can be taught simple household chores, which can keep them preoccupied and distracted from screens. Also, reading and role-plays can be encouraged in them
  • ENSURE THE FOLLOWING:
  • Avoid weight talk and weight-related goals.
  • Discourage weight loss packages/ dieting and skipping of meals. 
  • Be patient and praise your child’s efforts.
  • Never use food as bribe, reward or punishment.

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