I was happy to read the recent New York Times the lead story about child obesity rates in several US cities on the decline. The efforts from healthy eating supporters like Michelle Obama and child rights advocates on getting children eating healthy are paying off. Many factors which have not been easy to tackle such as getting soda vending machines out of school, not allowing french fries and ketchup be included in the vegetable category and keeping fruits fresh and palatable are only the tip of the iceberg. Changing the mindset of kids and parents alike is perhaps the most difficult task.
In India our child obesity has risen 20% in the urban areas and hit primarily the middle and upper middle class. Educating these students and their parents is feasible much more so than our rural population but not enough is being done to do so. School principals and PTAs should take an active role in setting up health camps and educating children and parents on healthy living. This is being done at some schools but the positive effects are yet to be seen. The government needs to ensure that food companies adhere to strict labeling guidelines and do not practice false advertising practices.
Last month India’s food regulatory agency has indicted several household brands, including Britannia biscuits, Horlicks health drinks and Kellogg’s breakfast cereals, for what it says are misleading claims about some of their food products. These large companies have a large advertising budget and much of it is aimed at bringing up a generation that likes their foods.
Believe it or not a large number of city schools have tied up with fast food chains to serve food in their school canteens! The Udaya Foundation in Delhi is doing great work in trying to prevent this by petitioning the high court for a ban junk foods and carbonated drinks from being served in and around schools as a Comprehensive School Canteen Policy. The county as a whole should also have the same type of policy.
The obesity rates are only expected to rise in India, including that of children. Making money is the sole purpose of any food business — they are not interested in your child’s health! Having watchdog groups is a must. Educational interventions in schools are need to educate the students and parents on the dangers of obesity how to prevent it. A lot of work is needed in this field but the news from New York gives us hope.
I wrote these tips for parents on my last piece on childhood obesity and am listing them again here:
1. Emphasize fitness and not weight. Unless your children are very obese and under the care of a nutrionist/doctor for their weight problem then do not weigh your children on a regular basis.
2. Initially keep small fitness goals such as running 1000 metres or doing 20 push-ups. Use positive reinforcements — never berate or make fun of your child for his/her weight. After achieving small goals then kids feel better about themselves and are most likely to make healthier food choices.
3. Marks are important, no doubt, but health of children should be the primary concern for parents. Focus on other extra-curricular activities and insist on a sports based activity every single day. Even during the ever-so important 10th and 12th standard years of study, at least 45 minutes of exercise is necessary. Physical activity relieves stress and can rejuvenate a tired brain.
4. Don’t be embarrassed to take dubbas. Extra classes are often necessary in our school system but ensure that your child is getting proper nutrition as they hop from one class to another. Taking something from home is much better than eating vada-pav from a tapri.
5. Limit dessert and soft drinks to once a week. Limitations make children understand that these items are treats. Sugar has addictive properties and if they are used to having sodas and chocolates everyday then their body will them crave daily. If your children are secretly consuming them, don’t fight. In most cases the kids will feel guilty for lying to their mom and dad and will reduce the banned goods themselves.(Emphasis on “most cases.”)
6. Pack healthy tiffins. You pack fruit and nuts for snacks in your child’s tiffin but their friends are bringing namkeen and cream rolls — this is a constant battle that make parents feel their children are getting unhealthy foods as they are sharing other kids unhealthy tiffins — so what’s the point of sending expensive dry fruits? Difficult dilemma, but keep at it. You can be flexible. The middle ground is healthy Indian snacks(preferably made at home or bought from a known source) — chaklis, certain laddos such as besan, and peanut chikki have some good nutritional properties. Store bought cakes and pasties, on the other hand, are filled with transfats and preservatives.
7. Keep a good line of communication. Kids many times turn food for comfort when they are feeling low — instead they should turn to their parents, friends and relatives. Boosting your child’s self esteem makes a confident and happy child.
8. Finally set a good example. What is the message kids will get if they see their parents eating chaat andgulab jamun regularly and not exercising!
It’s not easy — getting your child to eat right when there are so many temptations is easier said than done. Take small steps and don’t get frustrated. Change does not happen immediately. Keep them motivated to stay healthy with fun exercise and healthy treat