Childhood obesity and the development of type-2 diabetes is on the rise among children worldwide. According to the National Medical Journal of India, obesity during childhood can lead to subsequent morbidity, even if obesity does not progress into adulthood. Children who are overweight are more susceptible to a variety of diseases like diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases, obstructive sleep apnoea, and orthopaedic and psychosocial problems.
Obesity is defined as a 20 per cent excess of calculated ideal weight for age, sex and height of a child. A child is said to be obese when there is an excess of accumulated fat in the subcutaneous tissue (below the skin) and other areas of the body.
In 2010, there were 42 million overweight children below the age of five. Of this, 35 million children were from the urban areas of developing countries. According to World Health Organization (WHO), the fundamental cause of childhood obesity is the drastic change in food habits. These days, children tend to eat food which are high in energy and low in nutrients and fibre.
According to studies, nearly 16 per cent of children in India are overweight and 31 per cent are at the risk of falling in this category. And according to Anoop Mishra, director, department of diabetes and metabolic diseases, Fortis Hospital, New Delhi, childhood obesity had increased from 16 per cent in 2002 to 24 per cent in 2007 in New Delhi.
A study in Devangere, Karnataka, concluded that consumption of high fat and high energy food (junk food) and snacking in between meals was the major reason for the children being obese. According to experts, health education needed to be given to parents, teachers and children regarding dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles. Since children consume about 30 per cent to 50 per cent of their daily calories while at school, the lunches in schools need to be monitored.
The food offered typically in most school breakfast and lunch schemes is full of cholesterol and loaded with saturated fats. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains are low in the priority list. Good nutrition is urgently required if we are to succeed in reversing the increasing childhood obesity, type-2 diabetes and hypertension and other such diseases among growing children.
In March 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) came out with a rule which dictates the nutrition level to be provided to children by schools. These standards ensure that schools increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat free and low-fat fluid milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in meals; and meet the nutrition needs of school children within their calorie requirements. These improvements to the school meal programmes, largely based on recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, are expected to enhance the diet and health of school children, and help mitigate the childhood obesity trend.
Schools are no longer allowed to serve limitless calories to their children, and there is a curb on the amount of protein and grain portions that children can eat. Before these rules came into effect, schools served large portions of protein to keep children feeling fuller.
The importance of nutrition for children can never be over emphasised. Children who get the right nutrition during their growing years, from birth till their teens, benefit tremendously as they grow older. zz
(The writer is the owner of wellness centre Back to the Basics and the author of The Vegan Kitchen: Bollywood Style!)