Health Topics

Healthy Living

November 2011
Catch Them Young
Ishi Khosla
Let them eat what they like, they are too young to be weighed down by diet regulations (the school bag is bad enough), it’s their time to eat and enjoy and all this dietary advice can wait until later in life when restrictions will come anyway… a very typical attitude that has shaped most of our kids’ eating habits and health.

As childhood is a period of rapid growth, nutrient and energy requirements of children are comparatively greater than those of adults. Too little or too much food, or an imbalance of nutrients or energy over a period, can alter their growth and nutritional status.
Altered lifestyles affect adversely
As parents and teachers, kids are our pride, joy, the next generation and we certainly want the best for our precious ones. The way we feed them early in life can either safeguard or sabotage their health and happiness later in life. As a Yale Public Health Expert has projected, "Today’s generation of kids are expected to live shorter life spans than their parents... first time in the history of mankind… as each generation outlives its previous generation due to better medical facilities and scientific advancements." Obviously, some shifts in our lifestyles are endangering their lives. Rapidly changing urban eating habits and exercise patterns, have been found to be the most significant factors, which have altered health, growth and development of children.

Nutritional status in pregnancy plays an important role
While quality of nutrition in childhood determines children’s physical and mental development; research has now established that the process begins much earlier – from fetal stages in the womb. Both under-nutrition and over-nutrition at this stage play a role in the development of diseases like obesity, diabetes and coronary artery disease later in life – suggesting clearly that prevention of chronic diseases should start even before childhood begins!

Childhood Obesity – A growing concern

Childhood obesity has assumed epidemic proportions globally. The trends appear to be more serious in nations in transitional stages of development like ours, both if we look at the numbers and the severity. Some studies indicate the prevalence rates for obesity in children in India may be even higher than the global average of 24% – a paradox that co-exists with poverty.
  • Obesity in childhood and adolescence is an independent risk factor for adult obesity and precursor to chronic degenerative diseases. The real concern is that adult diseases including high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, abnormal glucose tolerance, diabetes, stroke, liver diseases, bone diseases and cancer are manifesting earlier in childhood and once developed they stay throughout life.
  • Type 2 diabetes, once considered an adult disease has skyrocketed among children and adolescents. If statistics are to be believed, every 4th person diabetic in the world is an Indian and India is set to become the "Diabetic Capital" of the world by 2025. 85% of children with type 2 diabetes are either overweight or obese (American diabetes association, 2000).
Since children and teenagers spend a significant amount of their time at school, it is imperative to address the eating habits of children here and create healthier school nutrition environments and promote lifelong healthy eating behaviours.

Start from the school
  • The school is a perfect setting to provide information and learning through formal and non-formal curricula, and reinforce health and nutrition messages through actions as well as words.
  • Peer group pressures are profound among adolescents. School based programmes can directly address peer pressures and help reinforce healthy eating habits.
  • An environment that supports healthy eating facilitates easier and effective changes in eating patterns. This is also true for other lifestyle factors including physical activity.
  • Schools must be safe havens where students can access healthy foods.
Issues to be emphasized
  • Adequate consumption of whole-grains, pulses, dairy, and nuts
  • Increased intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Importance of breakfast and family meals
  • Limited intake sweetened drinks and sugary foods
  • Regulated intake of junk food and high fat foods
  • Avoiding hydrogenated and trans fats
  • Providing healthier alternatives and variety
  • Avoiding eating in front of television
  • Encouraging traditional and local cuisines
Ishi Khosla is a Clinical Nutritionist, and Director – Whole Foods India.
  • The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.
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