By Florine Roche

Oct 13: Now that the mid-term examinations are over school children are once again enjoying a brief spell of Dasara holidays. Holidays for the urban kids these days comprises primarily watching television, movies, playing computer, video or mobile games. Naturally, these activities provide more scope for junk binge-eating with hardly any physical activity to burn those calories. Eating and lazing around has given rise to many life-style related diseases and one among them is childhood obesity which is slowly assuming epidemic proportions. Childhood obesity is on the rise in India in the last two decades and medical fraternity is apprehensive at the alarming rate at which heart-disease deaths in our country are increasing. Needless to say this is the upshot of our sedate but luxurious lifestyle and the warning bells and ringing loud and clear calling for our attention to act. There are enough indications that this problem will become an epidemic if not checked at this stage.

Cause for Concern

Expressing concern over this increasing childhood obesity Prof Narasimman Swaminathan, Professor and Head of the Department of Physiotherapy, at Fr Muller Medical College says “it is big concern for our country because by 2020 India may be the no 1 country in the world where deaths will be mainly due to heart diseases. This trend is a product of our sedentary lifestyle. It is a matter of grave concern that heart attack cases associated with middle and old age now manifests in those who are in their 30’s. We need to do something to arrest this trend”.

Children’s health has raised concern the world over. It is well known that our children are our wealth and our future and we need to take care of this human wealth with great care and alacrity if we are really serious about building a strong nation with a healthy populace. Lack of physical fitness and the tendency to indulge in junk eating habits has rendered our young population obese and they lack simple physical fitness. The reasons for this are varied – increasing disposable income among the growing middle class, more comforts, space constraint within the city limits, increasing focus on academics, allure of junk food and the expediency of transport etc., has led to a laid-back attitude among today’s youngsters.

It is the urban children who are who are more prone to this childhood obesity. It has become quite fashionable and fascinating for children these days to fill their bellies with every possible junk food flooding the market. Parents also mollycoddle their children with enough and more pocket money which is spent mostly on junk food.

According to Anupama K who did a survey when she was a student a year and half ago under the guidance of Prof Narasimman “there is a clear demarcation when it comes to the fitness levels of urban and rural children. Rural children boast of a better physical fitness, better flexibility, better before and after school activity ratio and better eating habits as compared to their urban counterparts”.

Warning Signs

Narasimman said that the survey was conducted in a sample of 684 students aged between 9 and 13 in schools in and around Mangalore. “The survey clearly showed that while rural children spend 30 minutes of time everyday on physical activity urban children spend only 5 minutes of their everyday itinerary on other activity. Similarly pre-school activity in rural areas was 70 minutes every day as compared 27 minutes of urban children. Urban children spend 85 minutes on an average everyday on watching television and rural children are just behind with 64 minutes of average TV watching. Even during school hours when rural children spent 70 minutes in sports activities their urban counterparts spent only 27 minutes”.

Narasimman said that based on the survey his team visited about 17 schools in Mangalore and impressed upon them on the need of more physical activity for children. Narasimman also says that his team is ready to visit any schools if they wish, so as to educate both the teachers and students on the importance of providing more physical activity to students.

It is quite regrettable that schools and particularly colleges these days have been giving less consideration to sports-related activities. Up to high school students get a few hours of physical activity as part of the curriculum. But once they enter the portals of the college sports periods completely disappear because the management, parents and students feel the thrust is more for academics. This vacuous approach is costing us dearly because adolescence is considered to be a sensitive period for the development of obesity. Studies have revealed that being obese during childhood increases the risk of a range of disorders in adulthood, no matter whether the adult is obese or not.

Healthy or Obese?

India already has the largest number of diabetics and childhood obesity is said to be the root cause of type II diabetes, having the potential to cause serious and long term health complications. There are also a host of diseases linked to childhood obesity. It is disquieting to know that these days in India children and adults show health problems and symptoms usually associated with the middle age and old age.

In this age of size zero when it comes to children we still go by the age old belief that obese child is healthy, only to forget that ‘baby fat’ and chubby cheeks if continue to spillover to adolescence would be detrimental to the health of our future generation. Mental and physical growth of children is invariably associated with their general health and this health awareness should start from early childhood and children can build upon that foundation for the rest of their lives. The choice to be healthy or obese is in our hands.

Parents should understand the importance of physical activity and persuade their children to go for outdoor games rather than encouraging watching television and playing video and computer games. It is not too late and a beginning can be made during these holidays as the weather is appropriate for outdoor activity.