Booming Economy, Bulging Kids…!

Deepa always knew she was fat, however, her weight wasn’t always a problem. When her pre-school dance teacher assigned her to the second row in the chorus and gave her the lead in “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic,” she was content in the belief that there is “a place under the sun” for everyone. In middle school, she enjoyed being the first in her class to fit into grown-up clothes. In high school, when her bust quickly filled to glorious dimensions, she felt a mature female. In those years, being fat was not a subject to ridicule.At fifteen, Deepa’s world fell apart. Overnight, it seemed, she had become everything nobody wanted to be. The phone stopped ringing, her friends started mocking her and she began to feel like an outcast. This story is one example of the world of a fat teenager. The prejudice associated with obesity is intense.

Fat people are often disregarded and mock at. Most comments about fatness have negative consequences. Young people are constantly humiliated and frequently suffer permanent emotional scars. Fat people become tired of being judged by weight first and personality second. Size prejudice hurts people of all sizes and ages. As long as fat is hated, everyone is afraid of becoming fat.

In the 1980’s in Indian children, Protein Energy Malnutrition was a major health and nutrition problem in the first year of life leading to not only childhood mortality but also permanent impairment of physical and possibly of mental growth of those who survive.

Now in the beginning of 21st century obesity has become a crisis of historic proportion. It is found that India is also fattening. The number of overweight Indians is more than the combined population of Australia and New Zeland. The National Geographic Channel recently observed that for the first time in human history the number of over-nourished people is equal to the number of under-nourished people in the world. Approximately, 1.7 billion are overweight people, meaning every 4th person on this planet is fat. So obesity is sometimes referred as ‘globesity’. As it is evident today, the Indian economy is one of the fastest growing economies of the world. Recently, it has become a trillion dollar economy and is one of the largest economies of the world.

With this, it has brought its share of lifestyle related health problems. India is already the ‘Diabetes capital’ of the world where nearly every 5th person will be diabetic by 2025. Now, it is on the way of becoming the ‘Hypertension capital’ of the world. The connection between severe obesity and premature death from diabetes, hypertension and CHD (coronary heart disease) is well established. That is why obesity has become a health problem. If remedial & timely measures are not taken especially in children and adolescents, who constitute about 1/3rd of the population, then India may emerge as ‘Heart attack capital’ of the world in near future.

Now a days along most city streets it is hard to miss the fast-food restaurants. These places offer a quick calorie laden meal often containing enough fat to fulfil an entire day’s calorie requirement. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to these places and for many children this is often their “special” dinner out. Just as fast-food restaurants attract the adolescent population, so does the constant bombardment of advertisements in media. Advertisements for candy, gum, soda, snacks and fast foods target the youth market and influence their food beliefs and eating patterns.

Commercials tend to encourage snacking between meals which is dangerous. Adolescents, at a critical period of their life, are receiving mixed messages from advertising and media. Advertisements use popular and thin heroes and actors to sell their products. Messages associated with feelings of popularity are conveyed and thus, the image sells the product. Studies on the effects of television advertising on the general population conclude that television presents viewers with two sets of conflicting messages. One, suggests that we eat in ways almost guaranteed to make us fat; the other, suggests that we strive to remain slim. Education about proper nutrition and health hazards associated with obesity is essential, particularly in the urban areas where this information is present but implementation is often lacking in the home.

Not only increasing affluence and easy accessibility to junk food has led to obesity in adolescents, but also sedentary lifestyle to cope up with the study patterns since childhood. An important factor for obesity in India is the intense competition for admissions to schools and colleges with flourishing tuition class right from nursery levels. Children are forced to use their play time for additional studies. Games or physical training sessions are restricted or non existent in many schools. Some schools do not have any playgrounds at all. The rise of obesity closely correlates to the increased number of hours spent watching television and driving vehicles. Television viewing has been associated with overweight, decreased physical activity, and unhealthy dietary behavior among children and adolescents, and may represent a cause rather a modifiable cause of childhood obesity.

Obese children grow into obese adolescents. These teens are at potential risk to become obese adults. Adolescent obesity predisposes to psychosocial and a range of medical problems. One may have trouble walking, breathing, muscular or bone problems, skin problems, infertility, and more serious heath problems such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus.

Some obese adolescents exhibit a disturbed body image which encompasses;’[p]= the inner mental picture of one’s body, including emotional feelings and attitudes. Disturbances in body image are primarily in the area of feelings. Factors influencing a disturbed body image are age of onset of the obesity, presence of an emotional disturbance and negative evaluation of the obesity etc. Adolescence is the period during which a disturbed body image is most likely to begin.

Disturbances in body image have a negative effect on daily activities and on relationships with the opposite sex. Weight reduction does not seem to alleviate the problem. Obese adolescents have feelings of low self-esteem, social isolation, feelings of rejection and depression and a strong sense of failure. Social attitudes towards obesity are negative and usually result in the adolescent becoming withdrawn and isolated. Being fat is projected as the worst possible fate in our society. Being rejected and unloved is a far worse fate. Unfortunately some people have to suffer both fates.

Hence, the time has come to realize that it is a sea of calories which is surrounding the world. In this sea, so many people are drowning that decade’s worth of medical advances aimed at fighting heart disease and other ailments, are in danger of being engulfed. We all are passengers of the sinking ship and time is running out. Therefore, timely action is needed at both micro and macro level.

Dr. Mrs Prajakta Kaduskar

Consultant in Adolescent Paediatrics


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