Unmonitored consumption of junk foods like pizza, burger and chips and little physical activity are resulting in a section of children becoming overweight or obese in Tamil Nadu. Experts say that while previous studies have time and again raised alarm over the risk of developing non-communicable diseases like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension as adults, the national survey has confirmed their fears.
The recent Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) has revealed that Tamil Nadu along with Goa has a large number of children who are obese or overweight in the age group of 10 and 19 years. The survey, which was conducted in the age group 0-19 years by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 30 states from 2016 to 2018 with the support of the UNICEF, was released recently. The results for TN point to a larger issue of impending risks with high triglycerides (11.3 percent) and prevalence of high fasting plasma glucose (9.2 per cent), in the age group 10-19 years.
Talking to The Federal, nutritionist Dr Dharini Krishnan says that with the increase in the number of nuclear families and both parents working, the child often has limited options for healthy eating. “The choices that they make are not always healthy and there is no supervision by an elder. So, they are free to order a burger, pizza or samosa. I also see parents thinking it is okay for the child to have a whole packet of chips as a complete meal,” she adds.
The problem is compounded with ready to eat food available at the click of a button, points out Dr Usha Sriram, endocrinologist-diabetologist. “Some 15 years ago, I told my patients to not eat out often. Now, outside food is reaching homes through food aggregator apps. Good eating habits have to be inculcated at a young age. These obese and overweight children tend to become overweight and obese adults as well,” she says.
More screen time
Not just poor eating habits, but also factors like reduced physical activity and unhealthy sleeping patterns are big factors, says Dr V Mohan of Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialties Centre.
“Physical activity classes are being taken over in schools, and playgrounds are fast disappearing. Children are not walking to school like the earlier generations used to and increased time in front of the PC or with gadgets — there are more factors encouraging a sedentary lifestyle,” he says. “These factors are common in the state across rural and urban areas as they are equally developed, like in the case of Goa.”
Dr Usha says that being obese and overweight is not just a physical health issue, but also impacts them psychologically. “They are more likely to get ridiculed or teased in school because of their weight. One can imagine the effect it can have on their self-esteem. Some of them resort to eating more to overcome the loneliness. It becomes a vicious cycle,” she points out.
Targeted intervention can help
Intervention in schools can help address the problem, explains Dr Vijay Viswanathan, head and chief diabetologist, MV Hospital for Diabetes. “We did a study and found out high rate of obesity in CBSE schools. To address it, we divided the schools into intervention and control groups. We taught the principals and teachers about encouraging healthy eating among their students. The students could convey the same to their parents and the weight issues could be addressed effectively with a decline in the body mass index,” he says.
Dharini says that involving children in kitchen activity, getting them to buy vegetables and ensuring they eat everything from a young age can ensure healthy eating habits. “We should completely do away with the concept of special food for children. They should be encouraged to eat everything. Simple activities like taking them to a vegetable market and making them pick up vegetables for their meals can bring about this change in them,” she adds.