Monday, May 07, 2007

Article - Fitness - Childhood Obesity

Puppy fat grows UP!

You might hear this often:“How chubby that child is,…soooo cute!”
Not really.

As a “victim” of childhood obesity, how can I not react to a comment like that? If someone were to ask ‘Will overweight children grow up to be overweight or obese adults', I will jump up and down with my hand up in the air. The answer is “Likely!”

A doctor once asked me: “Tell me, are either of your parents overweight?” – my involuntary response was “HAH!”. But of course, in front of a very senior doctor, one ought not to make such noises, I said “both!” quickly and curtly. I did not add “also my sister, my aunt, my cousins”…you get the picture. Yes! Being overweight is often, not always, a family problem.

When Fitness One had a kids’ camp, the kids were asked what their favourite foods were. Responses included “pizza, noodle, pastries,…etc.” Not one of them said “dosa”, “soup” or even, “laddoo”! I was not too surprised to hear this.

It’s not as if children are being encouraged to eat home-cooked, tasty foods. It’s not as if they are all being urged to take up a sport or exercise regularly or go out and play with other children. In all the homes I visit, I see kids in front of the TV or the computer, or curled up with a video game. Thanks to lack of space, they are stuck indoors and unless they attend some class – tennis or cricket etc, where is the chance or motivation for physical activity? This unhealthy lifestyle has to change.

In case anybody is woolly about all this, I did some introspection and hope to put things in perspective through this article. Today, obesity in children is a cause for serious concern because of its long-term health detriments - Premature heart disease, cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, low self-esteem, to name a few. Encouraging healthy lifestyle at a young age is very important, as change is obviously more difficult with age.

Is your child overweight? You need to consult the doctor first. If yes, and ONLY if doctor-recommended, seek help from a qualified dietician. From personal experience, I can tell you that usually, dieting for a child is extraordinarily difficult. I mean, even for an adult, it is so daunting. So how fair is it to expect a child to diet?

Exercise is the best option – whatever physical activity works. Taking up a sport for instance. Diet-wise, providing nutritious, low-fat, tasty snacks and incorporating soups, salads, fruits, juices on a regular basis, etc is important. Start making long-term changes as a family. These are just some “home remedies” to prevent or reduce obesity. You might even think to address teachers and school officials about the school canteen menu! After all, schools have a big say in children’s impression, as so much of their childhood revolves around it!

Sit down at the table as a family at least once a day for a balanced meal. Still more important, teach your child to avoid overeating. Now, as a parent, I can tell you I used to equate “force-feeding-leading-to-plumpness” with being a superior mother. What a ridiculous notion! Another point to note is that food should never be used as a “comfort” factor. I went through all this as a child... please don’t let yours. I have fantastic parents but this is one issue where I have a bone to pick with them!! Also, No rewarding with food/snacks or punishing without. Food is food. When hungry, eat. When comfortable, stop. Children in all their natural innocence, listen to their bodies a lot better than adults. In fact, humans are the only species who over-eat (and this they kindly pass on to their children and even their domestic pets!)

Need I mention the psychological factor that goes with the territory i.e., low self-esteem? Over-eat, grow fat, feel bad, eat more, get fatter, feel worse, so on and on and on. Obesity at any age becomes a vicious circle irrespective of what causes it.

This is one area where prevention is truly better than cure.

Sujata Tarakesan.

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