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The high-cal horror story

Friday 7 May 2004

Aloo parathas dripping with ghee , for breakfast. Colas and chips to give him company while watching his favourite cartoon serials on television. Slices of pizzas with extra cheese for lunch. Burgers with French fries on an evening out with his friends. It’s a typical menu for Ayan, a 10-year-old who is already overweight.

Obese children are a common sight these days thanks to their high carbohydrate and protein-rich diets and practically no physical exercises. Add to that school canteens selling all kinds of junk food and you have a potential disaster on your hands. Forget about all those hi-tech fitness centres doing a flourishing business for stressed execs and bored homemakers, more and more children in the city are facing obesity-related health problems, say experts.

"On an average, I get 35 per cent cases of obesity related problems among children below 15 years. The number increases during vacations. These days, children seem to be averse to the idea of doing any kind of physical activity," says Seema Shah, a city-based dietician. In fact, statistics show that 10 per cent of global obesity is in children in the age group of 5 to 17. With changes in lifestyle, eating out has become a fad among children too.

"I often order food from restaurants. Weekends are reserved for going to clubs. Besides, I love going out with my friends to neighbourhood joints," says Nishant Mehta, 13.

Nutritionists maintain that the popularity of high calorie diets that are low on nutrition have led to complicated health problems in children. Apart from cases of juvenile diebetics rising, many children also suffer from hypertension, low-confidence levels and sluggishness.

"Eating healthy seems to have gone out of fashion now. Despite all the big talk on health awareness, few parents have actually realised the importance of healthy eating accompanied with exercises.We have cases of young kids complaining of chest pain after mild physical exercises," says Gurmit Kaur, a teacher St Xavier’s, Loyola Hall.

Are parents really worried about their overweight wards? They are, but very few of them can exercise control over their kids’ dietary habits. "It’s difficult to say no to a child. Now, of course we are trying to be strict with my school-going son as doctors have warned us about his excessive weight," says Preeti Ray, a parent.

In fact, the problem has become so serious that now top schools like St Xavier’s Loyola Hall, Asia School and Prakash School are organising health awareness programmes for children. "The programmes were really successful. But parents need to focus upon the diets at home. Interestingly, schools have asked us to organise special programmes for parents too," says Roocha Mazumdar, a nutritionist. City-based Mahatma Gandhi International School (MGIS) runs a special cafeteria project where children themselves prepare low calorie healthy food from different regions.

Handling children with obesity problems is not an easy task, say experts. "A dietician often needs to double up as a psychologist too," says Kalpana Shukla, a dietcian. "We have to prepare a special diet chart for them keeping in mind their likes and dislikes. In fact, more than children, it is parents who need to be given special education on a healthy diet."

It’s a tough fight out there and a brave parent can substitute carrot sticks for French fries. Maybe you have to, when it’s your child’s health and future that’s at stake. Hold that pizza for today.

See online : The Times of India

P.S.

in The Times of India, Friday, May 7, 2004.

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