April 28, 2010
With increasing affluence and socioeconomic changes, India, like the rest of the world, is witnessing an obesity epidemic, especially in children and adolescents. According to one study, the percentage of overweight/obese children in Delhi has increased from 16% in 2002 to about 24% in 2006.
There is every reason to believe that this figure would have gone up further by now. In fact according to the latest study (mentioned below), obesity among both adolescent girls and boys in Delhi, has increased according to the measurement of parameters like BMI (body mass index), WC (waist circumference), W-HR (waist to hip ratio). The situation is not likely to be better in other parts of the country as well.
Consequently, obesity related conditions like metabolic syndrome, and hypertension are becoming common in children. The long term consequences of adolescent obesity include Type 2diabetes and coronary heart disease. According to one estimate, if the present situation is not controlled, then India stands to lose USD 237 billion over a period of 2005 – 2015.
A study was conducted by some doctors of DFI (Diabetes Federation Of India) and AIIMS (All India Institute Of Medical Sciences) on children of two schools in Delhi, to assess and compare the trends over 5 years (2003-2008), in anthropometric and biochemical parameters among urban Asian Indian adolescents, matched for gender, age, school grade and socieconomic strata, living in north India. In girls, a significant increase in obesity was noticed by way of increase in BMI (5%), WC (11%), whereas in boys, a marked increase in prevalence of obesity was seen according to the measurement of triceps fold thickness only (8.8%). In boys, a significant decrease of 9.1% was noted for HDL-c (high density lipoprotein cholesterol or the good cholesterol) as compared to 1.2% in girls.
These results are startling indeed and give a clarion call for immediate and sensible action. The culprit seems to be the increasing consumption of energy dense snacks and meals, coupled with decreased physical activity. Increased urbanization and industrialization has resulted in rapid nutrition transition, leading to excess consumption of high fat foods and soft drinks with high sugar content, causing imbalance of specific nutrients. Add to this the devastating effects of Trans Fatty Acids (which are present abundantly in fast foods, bakery items, and various fried snacks bought from the market), and the scenario becomes very grim. The sedentary life style of most of our school going children, only adds fuel to the fire of the poor and disease prone health of our youngsters.
As reported recently in news papers, our Sports Minister M S Gill has admitted that sports have remained a neglected area in schools. He wants that physical education and sports are given at least one period everyday compulsorily in school curriculum, beginning from elementary school onward. Perhaps the cause of his worry is that even though the country has a population of one billion, it fails to win Olympics gold medals or give great players to the world because over the years games and sports have got very little attention at the school level. Nonetheless, his insistence that adequate open grounds be provided for playing fields is in the interest of our children’s health. It is unfortunate that most schools have few sports facilities and/or trained sports teachers. Even parents are more worried about the facility of a computer lab, rather than a play ground. Students tend to treat the games period as a free period. Our former Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss also had stressed upon having compulsory Yoga classes in schools, with a view to curb the rising trend of obesity and Type2 diabetes in children.
Unless suitable measures are taken for the promotion of healthy nutrition and physical activity, the present trends are likely to cause a serious economic burden in terms of premature development of non communicable diseases in adulthood. School based educative intervention programmes seem to be the most cost effective way to prevent this obesity epidemic in risk prone adolescents. School children, their parents and teachers need to be sensitized on this issue. Nutritional and physical activity education can be given through lectures, focussed group discussions and other activities. Perhaps, more schools should join programmes like MARG (medical education for children/adolescents for realistic prevention of obesity and diabetes and for healthy ageing), and CHETNA (children health education through nutrition and health awareness), which are currently being run in a few schools of some cities thanks to the initiative taken by the eminent diabetologist Dr Anoop Misra, with support from the World Diabetes Foundation.
As right minded parents and educators, we need to join hands in the effort to promote healthy and active living. Parents will have to develop in their children a liking for wholesome and tasty food. The school managements and staff can support this endeavour by promoting the use of healthy food and creating awareness for making a conscious choice to avoid/ limit junk food, and increasing their physical stamina by making them run, march, jog, and play every day. Then we will not have students fainting due to fatigue, during the morning assembly. We may also be able to curb their aggressive and violent behaviour, as it has been scientifically proved that eating of junk food and overuse of internet abets abnormal behavioural tendencies.