Have you stopped and observed pre-teen and teenaged children coming out of a school recently? Their drivers are waiting for them in the cars and these children enter the car with some snack in their hands, which could be anything from an ice cream to a samosa or a burger. On one hand malnutrition is a serious problem that Indian children are facing and on the other hand we see child obesity increasing rapidly among the middle and high socioeconomic population. 8% of obese teens and 25% of obese pre-teen children are at a high risk of growing into morbidly obese adults.

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What are the reasons for this sudden spike in child obesity?

  • Eating pattern – Children today eat quick fix meals from packaged foods or eat from the fast food outlets.
  • Lifestyle – Their daily schedules are early morning school to private tuitions or coaching classes to extra curricular activity classes to home by late evening.
  • Technology – Television to computer games, cell phones with games and communication facilities for mental relief from the day’s schedule. This leaves no time for the kid to have any physical activity, which is beneficial to health in more than one way. Remember playing in a park outside the house or walking or cycling to a friend’s place to spend a few hours together?
  • Family trends – How many of us as parents eat right, sleep well and exercises regularly? Children do what they see!
  • Genetics – Genetics play an important role in determining the current and future health of a child. Then do we consider genetics as the major limiting factor in achieving health goals? No! Knowing your genetics means you are warned about the possibilities and an indication that we need to take extra care about the child’s health.
  • Food and emotions – The kind of mental pressures that our kids are living under drive them towards comfort foods like colas, iced teas, pastries, chocolates and coffees.
  • Social Commitments – Children today ‘meet up’ in coffee shops, McDonald’s, Pizza outlets and Bistros. The food available there is dense in fat and sugar.

Preventing your children from becoming overweight means adapting the way you and your family eat and exercise, and the way you spend time together. Helping your children lead healthy lifestyles begins with you, the parent, and leading by example.

The Effects of Being Overweight

Overweight children are prone to low self-esteem that stems from being teased, bullied, or rejected by peers. They are often the last to be chosen as playmates, even as early as in preschool. Children who are unhappy with their weight may be more likely than average-weight children to develop unhealthy dieting habits and eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, and they may be more prone to depression, as well as substance abuse.

Overcoming Overweight and Obesity in Your Child

The key to keeping kids of all ages at a healthy weight is taking a whole-family approach. It’s the “practice what you preach” mentality. Make eating and exercise a family affair.

Avoid falling into some common food/eating behavior traps:

  • Don’t reward children for good behavior or try to stop bad behavior with sweets or treats. Come up with other solutions to modify their behavior.
  • Don’t maintain a clean-plate policy. Be aware of kids’ hunger cues. Even babies who turn away from the bottle or breast send signals that they’re full. If kids are satisfied, don’t force them to continue eating. Reinforce the idea that they should only eat when they’re hungry.
  • Don’t talk about “bad foods” or completely eliminate all sweets and favorite snacks from overweight children’s diets. Children may rebel and overeat these forbidden foods outside the home or sneak them in on their own.

Here are some additional recommendations

  • Ages 7 to 12: Encourage children to be physically active every day, whether it’s an organized sports team or a pick-up game of soccer during recess. Keep your kids active at home, too, through everyday activities like walking and playing. Let them be more involved in making good food choices.
  • Ages 13 to 17: Teens like fast-food, but try to steer them toward healthier choices like grilled chicken sandwiches, home made paneer wraps, salads and smaller sizes. If they are not into organized sports, suggest intramural programs, fitness classes such as yoga or pilates, or alternative sport like skateboarding, or aerobics.
  • All ages: Cut down on TV, computer and video game time and discourage eating while watching the tube. Serve a variety of healthy foods and eat meals together as often as possible. Try to include servings of fruits and vegetables in their daily diet, plan healthy snacks, and encourage kids to eat breakfast every day. Encourage your children to try a variety of activities. Don’t force any one sport or activity – and help them find what they enjoy and then support them in their efforts.

If you, as a parent, eat well and exercise regularly and incorporate healthy habits into your family’s daily life, you’re modeling a healthy lifestyle for your children that could carry onto their adulthood. Talk to your kids about the importance of eating well and being active, but make it a family affair that will become second nature for both you and your children. Most important of all, let your children know you love them – no matter what their weight – and that you want to help your child be happy and healthy.