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Obesity is on rise worldwide and so are the plethora of diseases associated with it from diabetes, heart disease, stroke to some types of cancer. As our lifestyle has undergone a rapid change in the past many years, an increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugar and decrease in physical activity are being considered the primary reasons behind the obesity epidemic. Childhood obesity too has increased dramatically among kids and adolescents aged 5-19 from 4% in 1975 to over 18% in 2016, as per WHO.
Apart from the many physical health risks that the obesity poses, its impact on mental health is no less severe and can have a negative effect on a child’s personality for life.
“Obesity and its psycho-social impact is less spoken about and discussed. An obese child is often subjected to discrimination and stigmatization. This leads to low self-esteem, social anxiety, and mood disorders, which further drive them to overeat, and thus leads to the vicious cycle of obesity and mental health,” says Dr Sanjay Borude, Consultant Bariatric Surgeon, Breach Candy Hospital.
Children with developmental disabilities are more at risk of unhealthy weight gain than others.
“Along with poor lifestyle choices, unhealthy weight gain is prevalent in adolescents with developmental disabilities. Researchers from the US CDC and the Health Resources and Services Administration found that obesity is high among adolescents with learning and behavioural developmental disabilities and highest among children with autism compared to adolescents without these conditions,” says Dr Borude.
Have a discussion about holistic health and not the weight per se
Discussion about obesity with your child can be tricky and may have a detrimental effect on their psyche if not handled well.
“The idea is to keep the conversations casual. Health and not the number on the scale should be the reference of well-being. Discussion should be always be as a family. A parent leading by example is great help in treating similar issues,” says the expert.
Parents of a child with obesity should realise that the child has either inherited obesity as a disease, or has acquired an unhealthy environment from his surroundings especially family and thus blaming the child for it is actually unfair. While one cannot change genetic factors, but providing a positive and healthy environment can go a long way in tackling obesity.
“Ensure healthy and nutritious food at home and in school tiffins. Select healthy food only while ordering in or eating out. Avoid buying or stocking unhealthy snacks like sweets and chips etc and exercise regularly. Plan outdoor physical activities like trekking etc with your child and appreciate his/her every achievement how so ever small it may sound. Avoid using phrase like ‘why can’t you exercise’ or ‘if you eat less you can lose some weight’ etc,” says Dr Ramen Goel, Consultant Bariatric Surgeon, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central.
“Parents are role models for their kids and the best way to help a child to lose weight is by setting an example oneself and most children are likely to improve, even without a word spoken,” adds Dr Goel.