Fat little Indians

Published by Metro India News on October 11, 2016 00:14:14 AM

It is deeply disturbing to note that India occupies the second place among the top five countries with highest obesity risks in kids; with some 17.3 million children in the country projected to be affected by 2025. China leads the pack, with 48.5 million children, followed by the United States (16.7 million), Brazil (11.4 million) and Egypt (10.6 million), according to a new study, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity in connection with the World Obesity Day being observed on Tuesday.

The study suggests that childhood obesity and chronic illness in kids could affect 268 million youths globally. Of these alarming numbers, 90 million children, aged between 5 years and 17 years, could become clinically obese. The projected number comes from an initial report in 2010 that pegged 219 million children would become affected by weight problems and chronic illnesses in 10 years’ time, where 76 million children will suffer from childhood obesity alone.

“These forecasts should sound an alarm bell for health service managers and health professionals, who will have to deal with this rising tide of ill health following the obesity epidemic,” co-study author Tim Lobstein stated in the study. The researchers looked into data provided by the Global Burden of Disease from 2000 to 2013 to arrive at their projections. The researchers underscored the potential diseases that could rise in children by 2025. Four million kids could develop Type 2 diabetes, while 12 million children could suffer from impaired glucose tolerance.  

Some 27 million children could end up with hypertension, while 38 million could develop fatty liver build ups or hepatic steatosis. Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of obesity, premature death and disability in adulthood. But in addition to increased future risks, obese children experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects.

According to the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980. In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 600 million were obese. About 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2014, and 13% were obese. Most of the world's population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight. Forty-one million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2014.

Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health. The body mass index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults. It is defined as a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters (kg/m2). Depending on their height and weight, a person can belong to one of the following weight categories: underweight (BMI less than 18.5); normal weight (BMI between 18.5 & 24.9); overweight (BMI between 25.0 & 29.9) and obese (BMI 30.0 and above).

As per WHO standards, for adults, overweight is a BMI greater than or equal to 25; and obesity is a BMI greater than or equal to 30. For children, age needs to be considered when defining overweight and obesity. The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Across the globe, there has been an increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat.

There has been a significant increase in physical inactivity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization. Raised BMI is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke), which were the leading cause of death in 2012; diabetes; musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis – a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints); some cancers (including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and colon). The risk for these non-communicable diseases increases, with increases in BMI.

Experts underscore the need for supportive environments and informed communities so that people are influenced to make right choices, particularly healthier foods and regular physical activity. At the individual level, people can limit energy intake from total fats and sugars; increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, as well as legumes, whole grains and nuts; and engage in regular physical activity (60 minutes a day for children and 150 minutes spread through the week for adults).

The food industry needs to be regulated so as to reduce the fat, sugar and salt content of processed foods; ensure that healthy and nutritious choices are available and affordable to all consumers; and restrict marketing of foods high in sugars, salt and fats, especially foods targeted at children and teenagers.