For many people a roly-poly baby or toddler is the cutest. Unfortunately, this very misconception sets the stage for overweight as children turn adolescents, commonly brushed off as puppy fat. The implication is that as the kids gain in height, the fat burns up. What is usually overlooked is that it is all too easy for puppy fat to become obesity as children become adults. According to the WHO’s website, by 2016 more than fifty percent of overweight children were to be found in Asia. The WHO has warned that childhood obesity could well become one of the major health challenges in the 21st century with long term implications for growing populations like in India. This is one area we would be better off not competing with China.
There are simply too many reasons for the increasing obesity being observed in kids these days. One of the biggest reasons is the lack of adequate physical activity — running around, games which push the body to do more as they require not simply a quick eye but fleetness of foot, and a lithe body which can twist and turn easily. The other major reason is the switch to fast foods which are as dangerous for health as they are tasty and convenient. It is unlikely that a child will reach for a plate of salad or fruit, or a bowl of nuts instead of a burger or a pizza to quell hunger pangs. The rise in economic status has led to one very unfortunate fallout inasmuch that many people prefer foodstuffs that are high in refined carbohydrates, and fats; without compensating it with adequate proteins and various essential micronutrients, and energy dense foods.
Some other reasons why kids might become overweight include genetic factors; excessive stress caused by over expectations regarding performance in academics or the sports field; trauma caused by the loss of a close family member, especially a parent or sibling; and unlikely though it might seem in a pre-teen — depression. Apart from a sedentary lifestyle, youngsters spend too much time either viewing TV or on smartphones which leads to unhealthy snacking. Tight academic schedules, and the need to commute long distances to attend school and tuitions don’t leave your kids time to participate in any kind of vigorous physical activity. Unfortunately, parents find it tough to identify when their children become overweight as different children grow differently.
Infants should be breastfed, rather than bottle fed as long as possible. It should be noted that various studies have indicated bottle fed babies develop a natural propensity to become overweight. The diet of your kids is one area where you need to focus special attention. Include plenty of fiber, especially whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in their daily menu. Make sure that they cut down on their sugar intake by keeping a weather eye open for diverse confectionary items, beverages, candy, and fast foods. Encourage them to eat lean protein in at least three meals a day. Some good sources of protein are soy beans, lentils, legumes, chicken, fish, skimmed milk, paneer, and eggs. Just keep in mind that healthy does not mean that food isn’t delicious.
Tell your kids to drink plain water, instead of sweetened branded cold drinks, milkshakes, lassi, and sharbats to slake their thirst. The occasionally sips of these cold drinks is fine. It simply should not be overdone. Instead of milkshakes, opt for cold milk with little added sugar, or sweetened with honey. Freshly squeezed fruit juice, daab (green coconut water), and juices of vegetables are good alternatives as they will provide necessary nutrients without overloading your system with sugar.
Daily workouts, even if it means that your child is doing yoga, or simple free hand exercises which include stretching and balancing, are a must to keep the body toned and trim. Of course, you could enroll your little one in a dance class which make for activity with fun, or to do Pilates. Giving your child training in some kind of martial arts serves the dual purpose of enhancing activity levels, while ensuring she/he stays safe later in life. The heightened levels of activity will improve circulation of bodily fluids, increase oxygen intake, and reduce stress to help your child relax adequately. Watch out for depression and stress which could make your kid listless, and then binge eat, or overeat inviting obesity. Further, regular exercise strengthens bones, improves a sense of balance which automatically prevents or reduces falls, and helps in building a positive self-image.
Sufficient sleep is vital for proper growth, and to aid in repairing the body. Minor cuts, bruises, falls usually don’t require medication. Mild antisepsis of ruptured skin, and sound sleep go a long way in healing naturally. Many of the problems besetting kids and adolescents seem less monstrous after a good night’s sleep.
Food should never be linked to rewards or punishment. Following a routine of giving chocolates or ice cream treats for doing well in exams, or performing excellently on track or field should be a strict no-no. Don’t withhold food as a punitive measure. Never allow a child to eat because she/he is exhausted or bored, and certainly not while watching TV. Eating should not be treated as a diversion. Nor should it be used as a mood enhancer except when you prepare a comfort food which is healthy.
Healthy eating habits need to be inculcated from birth. If you encourage your child to feed only when hungry, and not because a clock says it is time to eat; you would have inculcated one major healthy eating habit. You should also encourage healthy snacking, especially in the growing years when children do need to eat more, but also gain pounds faster. Teach portion control to prevent overeating. Most importantly, your child is likelier to eat and drink healthily, if you do so. Teach by practice more than by precept, as kids are likelier to turn a deaf ear to lectures on healthy habits, especially from parents.