Children who either walked or cycled to school had lower body fat and were less likely to be overweight or obese, a new study has found. The researchers, who assessed the impact of extra-curricular physical activities like daily commute to school and participation in sports among primary school children, observed that physical activity was a better predictor of obesity levels in children than commonly-used body mass index (BMI) as it looked at total weight, including “healthy” muscle mass, rather than fat mass alone.
“The link between frequent participation in sport and obesity levels has generated inconsistent findings in previous research, but many of these studies were looking at BMI only,” says the study’s first author, Lander Bosch, a Ph.D scholar at University of Cambridge. The study was published in BMC Public Health Journal.
Childhood obesity, a condition where a child accumulates abnormal or excessive body fat that causes negative effects on health, was thought to be a problem of high-income countries. But the condition is on a rise in low-income and middle-income countries as well, especially in urban areas.
Since 1980, obesity has doubled worldwide. In fact, in 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults (18 years and older) and 41 million children under the age of five were overweight. Nearly half of the children under five who were overweight or obese in 2014 lived in Asia.
Childhood obesity can lead to other diseases
Doctors are concerned because childhood obesity may lead to other morbid conditions that may develop during childhood itself, or during the later years. “In children, obesity increases the risk of several non-communicable diseases like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, early heart disease, diabetes and bone problems, skin conditions such as heat rash, fungal infections, and acne. It can also cause behavioral issues and depression due to ridicule and marginalisation by peers. Awareness is needed on how to prevent and manage obesity, and also where to seek help,” says laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon Dr Amit Deepta from Columbia Asia Hospital.
Somewhere between 5.74 and 8.82 per cent of school children in India are obese, as per the 2018-study ‘Childhood Obesity: The Indian Scenario Compared with World Wide’ published in the Current Research in Diabetes & Obesity Journal (CRDOJ).
According to Dr Gaurav Jain, internal medicine at Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, the ramifications of obesity includes type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer – making it an alarming concern.
“The cases of obesity among young population is rising drastically. Being a couch potato and watching endless web series is the new trend among children nowadays. According to a recent study, it was found that toddlers with asthma are more likely to be obese because their condition stops them from exercising, and steroids in inhalers boost appetite,” he tells indianexpress.com.
Obesity during childhood also causes breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, menstrual and puberty related disorders, and psychological effects.
So what should be done?
In order to reduce the risk factor of all these diseases, children should indulge in some physical activity for at least one hour a day and balance their eating habits, suggests Dr Nidhi Malhotra, senior consultant, diabetes and endocrinology, Jaypee Hospital, Noida.
“It is important to limit your child’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, soft drinks and high-calorie snacks,” she says, adding that it might be difficult at first but can be turned into a routine part of life through continuous engagement with children and parents.
Dr Jain advises making fitness and healthy diet “a style statement”. “The role of supportive environments and communities is very important as it shapes people’s choices that eventually prevent obesity. Making fitness and healthy diet a matter of style helps create peer pressure on others to follow a healthy lifestyle. However, one should be cautious as being fit is not about being thin or anorexic,” he says.
*Choose the right diet and monitor calorie intake since metabolic disorders result from the lack of balance between calories consumed and calories spent.
*Get mobile: Indulging in more physical activity, such as walking or jogging or any sport that the child is interested in on an everyday basis, is an important step to control the growing waistline.
*Children learn by example: One of the most powerful ways to encourage your child to be active and eat well is to do so yourself.
*Go green: One should include more green vegetables and fresh fruits in the diet to reduce the intake of energy-dense food.
*Small meal portions: A good rule of thumb is to start meals with small servings and let your child ask for more if they’re still hungry.
*Limit screen time: Limit the amount of time your child spends on inactive pastimes such as watching television, playing video games and playing on electronic devices. Though there’s no hard and fast advice on how much is too much, but experts say children should watch no more than two hours of television each day.