26th November is World Obesity Day. According to World Health Organization, obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century. "Its prevalence has tripled in many countries across the globe since the 1980s, and the numbers of those affected continue to rise at an alarming rate, particularly among children." According to WHO estimates, obesity is already responsible for 2-8% of health costs and 10-13% of deaths in different parts of the European region.
Things are not too different in India. Indian experts feel that Indians infact are more prone to gaining weight. Besides, it has been noted that problems like diabetes and blood pressure too occur in Indians at a lower weight as against Americans or Europeans. It may be concluded that Indians are genetically predisposed to these illnesses at a lower weight gain. In the west, there are well defined parameters for weight loss. So, if a person has a BMI of 35-40 accompanied by diabetes, heart disease or any other related problem, then weight loss surgery is the prescription or if one has a BMI of 40 or more, irrespective of the fact that he has any other problem or not, he is required to go through weight loss surgery. In India most obesity related problems seem to occur or initiate when the BMI reaches 32-33 but there are no pre-defined criteria for the lard to be knifed off.
Obesity is rising more among middle class kids. With the segment expanding over the years and prospering, their eating patterns are particularly undergoing a drastic change. A study conducted by Nutrition Foundation of India in 2004 on children studying in private schools of Delhi in the age group of 4-18years showed that 29% of the children were overweight with BMI above 25. Another study in year 2002 revealed that 28% adult males and 47% adult females in Delhi were overweight. Past studies in schools of metropolitan cities showed that 22%-31% children studying in well off schools were obese as against 4.5%-6% in corporation schools. Increasing fat intake accompanied by rising physical inactivity is contributing to obesity in children.
The big blow up
As Obesity leads to innumerable other health problems including blood pressure, high cholestrol, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, breathing problems, orthpaedic problems, ovarian disease, infertility etc., and if high numbers of the population start succumbing to these, there is increased health care expenditure right from the government level down, there is decreased productivity at work. If the problem takes epidemic proportions, there is no denying the fact that we will be a sick society in more ways than we can possibly think of.
What can be done
Both societies and governments need to act to curb the problem of Obesity which is yet salvagable but threatening to be an epidemic. Lets learn from the AIDS worldwide epidemic - a case of too little too late. National policies should encourage and provide opportunities for greater physical activity, and improve the availability and accessibility of healthy foods. They should also encourage the involvement of different government sectors, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders.
What government & schools can do
The government as well as schools including private institutions need to put in a combined effort to regulate what is available to the kids to eat in canteen. Indeed, bad food is cheaper but not if we are looking at the larger picture.
Control should be exercised over vendors around the schools.
Counselling the parents can goa long way. Schools should keep BMI records of children and conduct checks regularly as they do for generalcheck ups or dental check ups. It is easier to check a health problem if it is detected well in time.
Government should ensure a safer environment for physical activity in and around residential areas.
Schools should ensure that the students get enough time/ periods for physical activity everyday. Physical activity should be made mandatory, both at the government level and the school level.
Owing to increased pressureof academics, increasing number of children are seeking extra tuitions. As a result, physical activity suffers. It would pay very well to adopt the new-age system of education which focusses on 'real learning' as against 'bookish knowledge'.
What parents can do
Love is expressed in most Indian households through food. Parents force their kids to eat even when the child is not hungry. Encourage your child to eat when hungry and to eat slowly.
Eat meals together as a family as often as possible.
Carefully cut down on the amount of fat and calories in your family's diet.
Don't place your child on a restrictive diet.
Avoid the use of food as a reward. Avoid withholding food as punishment.
Children should be encouraged to drink water and to limit intake of beverages with added sugars, such as soft drinks, fruit juice drinks, and sports drinks.
Aim to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Discourage eating meals or snacks while watching TV.
Eating a healthy breakfast is good way to start the day and may be important in achieving the maintaining a healthy weight.
Any weight-loss diet should be low in calories (energy) only, not in essential nutrients. Even with extremely overweight children, weight loss should be gradual.
Be physically active. Plan family activities that provide everyone with exercise and enjoyment. Provide a safe environment for your children and their friends to play actively; encourage swimming, biking, and other fun activities. Reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in lazy activities, such as watching TV. Limit TV time to less than 2 hours a day.
What RWAs & NGOs
RWAs and NGOs are very actively involved with the society these days. While members of these set ups are quite disciplined in their approach to the subject in question, they probably treat it as themost trivial of the society's problems. But their role could create all the difference in the situation owing to their proximity with people of specific communities in general.
Health awareness camps, facilities for physical activity and games within colonies, games & sports events within the community can not only keep the people aware and interested but it will also inculcate healthy thinking and lifestyles, thus paving the way to healthy societies.
Besides, it will encourage a more sporty outlook amongst the citizens. Who knows how many football, cricket, tennis, badminton champions to be give it all up to work in a software company or call centre to merely be able to afford a homein these very colonies.
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