Know the fat of the matter

Updated: Apr 29 2007, 05:30am hrs
You just cannot blame TV and geeky computer games for your child getting obese. Kids will be kids... and thats what they are meant to be. They will continue to love potatoes, munch chips, drink colas, and pester you for Big Macs.

So, the onus finally rests on you to do a reality check. Stop pulling their chubby cheeks lovingly and defending their obesity as baby fat. Its neither fat nor funny. Crudely put, it is unhealthy and a big menace too. Overweight and obese children are threatened with early onset of diabetes mellitus and heart disease.

The World Health Organisation already regards childhood obesity as an epidemic. It is estimated that 17.6 million children under five are overweight worldwide. It has already hit the developed world and now its time for India, China and Japan to be on their guard.

A Major Intervention Programme for Prevention of Obesity and Health Education targeting schoolchildren in North India was promptly pressed into action after studies found close to 35% there are obese. Little wonder that one-fourth of children dont even play for half an hour a day!

Implemented by the Diabetes Foundation in India with financial support from the World Diabetes Foundation (WDF), the programme aims to create awareness about diabetes, obesity, lipid disorders and heart disease in children and adolescents.

THE SWEET TOOTH

Give your child popcorn instead of the bag of chips to munch on the couch.
If you are going to insist on the kids having porridge and yoghurt everytime then your plan is likely to fall flat on its face in less than a week. So, award them with chips and ice creams occasionally.
Buy cookies and cakes made of wheat flour and jaggery instead of refined flour and sugar.
Make a healthy choice. Stock the refrigerator with fruit juices instead of colas. Nothing beats fresh juices though.
Get calcium coated sweets instead of sinful chocolates. Believe it or not, little lifestyle changes indeed go a long way.

In-depth studies conducted in schools show that these children also have a high risk for development of early heart disease since 13-25% of them have high levels of C-reactive protein, which is a robust predictor of severe heart disease. Other risk factors were also high in these schoolchildren; 40-50% had increased triglycerides (blood fat) levels while 30-70% had low HDL (good cholesterol) levels.

The worse is that 50-70% of the obese children will become obese adults, likely to suffer from diabetes and also stroke, liver disease, infertility, hypertension, arthritis, and cancers. The estimates for diabetes are as bleak. More so because India already boasts of the largest diabetes population in the world with close to 35 million people affected by the disease.

With the increase in adiposity and cardiovascular risk factors in childhood mainly due to marked shifts in dietary and lifestyle practices, we believe that a programme focussing on the primary prevention of obesity and inculcation of healthy diet and lifestyle practices is urgently needed, says Prof Anoop Misra, director, Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases, Fortis hospitals.

We are witnessing a large scale pandemic in terms of obesity and related chronic diseases. Raised body mass index is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Therefore if we are to succeed in our efforts to stem the rising burden of diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart diseases, we must at least ensure that the coming generation learn to live a healthier lifestyle, says Dr Anil Kapur, managing director of the World Diabetes Foundation in Denmark.

While we blame children for eating unhealthy things, we seldom realise how often we tend to overfeed them. Like ten-year-old Ankit who suffered his mothers overzealous nature every meal of the day till he became overweight by the age of nine.

Most parents are clueless when it comes to deciding the appropriate diet for their children. While they know whats good for them and whats not, they are unable to decide the portion size. If the kid is active, there is little to worry, one might think. Figure the conspiracy here kids usually gorge on chocolate cookies and colas that sends their insulin level just soaring, resulting in instant energy. Such kids get tired as quickly.

Trust the internal hunger gauge of your child. Give him the freedom to eat as much as he wants to. You can however judiciously decide what he must essentially be eating.

An independent study conducted recently by Dr Ashok Jhingan, chairman, Delhi Diabetes Research Centre, claims that 62% children prefer eating fast food like burgers and pizzas to green vegetables and 47% children drink atleast one cold drink daily.

Dieting is but a big no for kids. The mathematics is simple encourage the children to burn calories instead of restricting the process. For instance, if they watch the tube theyll end up nibbling snacks indiscriminately. If they go out to play, theyll only end up burning calories.

However, the thumb rule is to be a role model for your child. Says Shikha Acharya, mother of eight-year-old Shubham, I have had weight problems for most part of my life. I didnt want Shubham to suffer the same so I put strict restrictions to his diet. Little did I realise how difficult it would have been for him to condition his mind to not eating all that he likes so much. I am barely able to check my own diet. The day I made it a mission for myself, it became easier for Shubham as well.

Really. There are no two theories about it. A research by Mayo Clinic suggests that successful prevention and treatment of childhood obesity starts at home. It becomes easier for children to change their exercise and eating habits with the help and support of their families.

Dr Nitin Verma, paediatrician, Max Hospital says Children do have a genetic tendency to store fats. But largely it all boils down to unhealthy eating habits and sedentary pursuits. But just dont blame the TV, videogames, computer games or the Internet. Lot of parents unknowingly encourage the wrong reward system: do this and Ill treat you at McDonalds. To begin with a good idea would be to start eating out less often.

In fact it all starts at infancy when parents desirable of a plump, chubby baby induce wrong eating habits. Parents should try and restore the energy balance of their kids. The calories from carbohydrates and fats should be used to gain energy and the proteins as building blocks for the body, adds Dr Verma.

Agrees Dr Rekha Sharma, vice president, VLCC Healthcare, One gram of fat gives nine calories and a gram of sugar four calories. These are completely hollow calories. While a strict diet is a big no, things like skimmed milk pose no problem at all. However, fat-free or sugar-free products off the shelve can be easily avoided.

Though challenging, start your own mission at home to get your child back on his toes and in shape!

Make Fitness Fun

Be a role model. Show your children that to have fun one needs a certain level of fitness. Involve the entire family in a game that requires physical movements game of catch, tug of war Or just race the stairs with them instead of taking the elevator.
Tennis vs the couch: Encourage your child to spend more time on the field than in front of the tube. Thats the thin line that divides the sedentary from the non-sedentary.
Dance mania: Offer to be a DJ for your childs birthday. Hold a dance party instead of a passing the parcel game.
Playmates: Get yourself a bike and hop on for a ride with your kid. Sweat out the calories as you spend quality time with him. Go together to walk the dog; Hit the neighbourhood park; Just roll in the grass or splash in the swimming pool together!
For once just leave your car behind and walk down to the neighbourhood departmental store with your child. Find ways to be physically active everyday.
It might sound strange, but try it nevertheless. Remove the TV and the computer from your childs bedroom. The rule applies to your bedroom TV as well.