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Parents: Here’s How To Fight Childhood Obesity 

Making easy changes in the everyday routine of children can keep the surging adverse effects of childhood obesity at bay 

Ritika Samaddar | Feb 20, 2021

Childhood obesity is slowly becoming a serious medical condition across the globe, and in India in particular, which affects adolescents and children alike. Obese children are normally over weight and have a larger, more visible build in contrast to their age. Amongst the many reasons for the increase in obesity amongst children, heredity/genes, developmental influences and environmental factors, top the list. However, their influence on an individual may vary.

According to a study, India has the second highest number of obese children in the world with 14.4 million reported cases. Some very basic and unrecognized lifestyle habits that we have incorporated over the years pave way for this severe challenge that we are facing. Some factors that have contributed to this rise is the concept of replacing home cooked ‘tiffins’ with canteen food, aggressive advertisements by brands of processed food and beverages as well as a societal shift to screen time instead of actual physical play time. If not controlled timely, childhood obesity can increase the risk of hypertension, osteoarthritis, elevated cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, respiratory problems, etc. Beyond this, obesity also hampers the child’s overall development and contributes to lowered self-esteem and depression amongst children. Every two amongst three obese children will remain obese as adults and are at a greater risk of developing adult lifestyle diseases.

Children do what they see and adapt very quickly to their environment. Hence, it’s important for parents to take the lead and help their children incorporate healthier habits at the onset itself, when their child’s malleability scale is comparatively higher. Here are a few tips that will help parents manage their child’s obesity in a more optimistic manner:

Promote nutritious and well portioned meals

Children are often attracted to processed, or oily food which is refined sugar, fats, especially trans-fat and salts/sodium. The consumption of this type of food can have side-effects on their weight and growth in the long run. As parents, it’s important for you to keep an eye out on your child’s daily diet, both inside and outside of the homes.

A good way to start this is by ensuring that your child enjoys his/her meals and that it’s portioned appropriately for a single person. Incorporating food that is rich in protein and energy in the diet of a growing child is very essential for his/her healthy built and must not be compromised with. Healthy eating includes consuming more fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, whole-grains and nuts like almonds.

It is also advised to limit the consumption of saturated fats and bad cholesterol and instead shift to unsaturated fats and energy giving foods. Timely meals also streamline the routine of the kids to eat when they are hungry and not bored, meanwhile, adding a sense of discipline to their food intake.

Teach your child to snack right

Growing children tend to develop a higher appetite that makes them hungry frequently through the day. In a scenario like this, mothers can incorporate healthy snacking in their dietary habits instead of curbing their hunger which can hamper their growth. Nuts such as almonds are a great replacement for unhealthy snacks as they may have satiating properties that promote feelings of fullness, which will help keep your kid full in between meals and limit their outreach for fried, unhealthy snacks. Besides almonds, you could also opt for fruits, oats, makhanas or fresh juices, and inculcate conscious snacking habits in your child from early on, as he/she is likely to follow them lifelong. This will not just help control his/her weight, but also help in leading a more nutritious and healthy lifestyle.

Let your child choose a form of exercise that excites him/her to stay fit

Due to academic pressures and distractions caused by TV, mobile phones and video games today, maintaining your child’s physical activity can be challenge. However, a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity a day is a vital factor in leading a healthy and fit lifestyle. This needn’t be by making them jog every day or enrolling them at a gym – you can instead work with your child to understand his/her interests and accordingly choose a form of exercise that he/she is likely to enjoy. Whether it’s mandatory play time for 60 minutes in the park, choosing to learn a form of classical or modern dance, learning to play a sport or cycling – by making your kid join something he/she enjoys, physical activity will be something he/she will be looking forward to! Added to that, these activities won’t just control his/her weight but will also help build strength and stamina.

Limit ‘screen time’ by replacing it with ‘family time’

In the past two decades we have seen the influence and hold that technology has on all of us and how it impacts our daily choices. What was introduced to us as a source of information and entertainment has now become a serious barrier to health. TV advertisements are aggressively used by brands to attract and persuade consumers for their commercial interests. These days, brands are actively directing their marketing tools towards kids since they have the ability to drive indirect sales. In this process, kids are observing these products and developing a drive to own them.

Televisions, play stations and smartphones collectively are also becoming roadblocks in the holistic development of the children as they drive them away from physical activities and encourage a lazy ecosystem. Children who spend more than 4 hours on these tools of technology are more likely to be overweight, develop bad habits, show aggressive behavior and fear that the world is scary and that something bad will happen to them. A good way to counter this is by setting limits on daily screen time, and instead replacing it with quality family time where parents and kids can come together and play games, talk about themselves, their day and also the important news around them, travel, etc. Not only will this help restrict engagement and dependence on the screen, but it will also help kids in becoming more aware, alert and strengthen the parent-child relationship.

Avoid using food as a punishment or reward

For a lot of parents, food – especially sweets or snacks, become a form of punishment or reward for their children. By positioning food as reward for a good deed, we set wrong expectations for our children and unknowingly contribute in building an unhealthy emotional connection with food and feeling good. Beyond this, it also interferes with a child’s natural ability to regulate their eating which can have a negative impact over time. If you do this with your son/daughter – stop now and instead reward them with things that will help in their growth – this could be a visit to the zoo, a playdate with a friend or a special learning toy.

Support your child, no matter what

Your child’s obesity shouldn’t be a reason for you to feel embarrassed and what you feel or how you treat the issue will have a large impact on how they perceive themselves in the future. While you help them on their journey to a healthier lifestyle, do it for the right reasons – and try not to let materialistic nuances like beauty, or fitting into the ‘cooler’ types of clothes be the motivator here. How you deal with your child’s weight issues will define how he/she perceives himself/herself. Maintaining a positive and supportive approach is the most important and effective way to drive good results.

(The author is the Regional Head of Dietetics, Max Healthcare – Delhi)