Obesity is not a lifestyle choice; it is recognised in medicine as a chronic disease. It is a global epidemic whose major pillars are behavioural and environmental. These two pillars have been challenged during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic across all population age groups especially children. The current pandemic is contributing to an increase in obesity rates. Doctors and health care professionals are seeing an upward trend of patients struggling with weight issues during these last few months. Children are facing a higher risk of obesity due to the closure of schools which resulted in decreased organised physical activity, increase in sedentary lifestyle and screen time and increased intake of calorie dense and sugary foods.
Children have fewer weight-related health and medical problems than adults. However, overweight children are at high risk of becoming overweight adolescents and adults, placing them at risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes later in life. They are also more prone to develop stress, sadness, and low self-esteem “COVID 19 is expected to possibly worsen the situation of overweight in middle and high socio-economic groups since the tendency for home confined young and schoolchildren and adolescents to indulge in frequent munching or consumption of high calorie and empty nutrient value snacks such as ‘namkeen’, biscuits, bread, buns, noodles, ice creams, cookies and cakes, fried snacks, sweetened beverages would increase. These items are rich in carbohydrate, sugar and fat and are sought routinely and consumed to get relief from boredom,” said Dr Sheila Vir, Director, Public Health Nutrition and Development Centre, Delhi.
This should be a wake-up call to tackle the childhood obesity. Excess weight is one of the few modifiable factors for covid-19 and so supporting people to achieve a healthier weight will be crucial to keeping our children fit as we move forward. The following pointers can be discussed and taught to children:
1. Eat healthy meals Try and eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products. Limit the consumption of sugar. Encourage your family and friends to drink plenty of water and limit the consumption of sugary drinks and canned juices.
2.Chew thoroughly and eat slowly There is a lag between starting a meal and feeling fully satiated. If you eat very quickly there is no time for your body to register that you have just eaten and therefore are not hungry any longer. One simple hack is to eat slowly. Chewing food thoroughly is another way of slowing down your mealtimes.
3.Eat only at mealtimes Perhaps the biggest error is believing that eating constantly will make you thin. But think about it. How does eating all the time keep you slim? Constantly putting in food in your body will not help it burn the calories rather will store it as fat. Eating all the time will make you fat!
4. Out of sight, out of mind Keep all snacks and other unhealthy foods hidden. We might not be hungry, but the sight and smell of delicious food may make us hungry. Hunger as state of mind has been documented as the “cephalic phase response”. So, the simplest thing to do is keep the unhealthy junk out of sight.
5.Get some fresh air and sunshine Go for a walk or run or a bike ride. Explore local parks and make some time for exercise. Pick up a new hobby like gardening or you can even read your favourite book sitting in the balcony, when the weather is conducive.
6.Create a list of activities you enjoy Boredom and stress makes people reach for something to munch. Try to stop it by placing a list of non-food related activities that can help you. Some examples of activities you can do in and around your home include tending to your garden. Drawing & painting, cleaning out your closet and your room. Having a list of activities already prepared will help you stay on track and you will not find yourself running to the refrigerator door!
—Dr Deepti Arora, Physician & Diabetologist