This morning while preparing for a presentation on “childhood obesity” I happened to read that, “this is the first generation of kids who may not outlive their parents“.
Now, I am a doctor, a bariatric surgeon to be precise, but I am also a mother to a four years old. There is obviously no prize to guess my line of thought after reading this profound statement. This generation of kids includes “my kid” and the kids of everyone I know.
I spent the entire Sunday reflecting on how we are bringing up our kids. First of all, I need to confess that there are times (a tad too often) when I am really really grateful to the makers of Apple and Android! Although, theoretically I also condone children’s addiction to tablets, video games and you tube, I do use it as per my convenience. Till date I wonder, how my mother fed the baby me without the help of a smart phone! Obviously, rationing of exigencies cannot work as per parental convenience. If I want my kid to stay off the scourge of phones, I as a parent need to develop more patience to be able to engage him not only at meal times but at other times too!
Fortunately, though I am not a perfect mother, I can proudly say that even at the age of four, my son can differentiate between healthy and unhealthy food and ten times out of ten he picks the healthier option. Though I score an “A” in this area, I do refrain from boasting about it in front of other mothers. Why do I that? I guess I am trying to fit in. I don’t want other mothers to think that by denying chips, ice-cream and chocolates I am depriving my son of a normal childhood!
Many a times family members have also commented that I am overdoing stuff! Sometimes they go a step further and tell me that my son is too skinny and undernourished.. He needs more ghee and butter in his food to grow properly!! Although I know that these comments arise out of a warped sense of a so called “normal childhood”, again, they tend to raise a question mark on my motherhood!! Well thank God, for blessing me with a thick skin.
I also found out today that Mac Donalds is the largest distributor of toys in the world. What business does a fast food chain have with distribution of toys? Well, children today are being targeted for food like never before. Look at the advertisements on cartoon channels. While Chota Bheem beams on a packet of chips, my son goes crazy after Kinder Joy just for the silly little toy. I can’t help admiring the attractive and colorful packaging of sugar loaded cereals that we feed our kids in the name of health! These companies are luring kids like no one’s business. It also doesnt help that some of these so called “happy meals” are way cheaper than healthier options like fruits and salads. Ofcourse, it is not difficult to guess what our children will select if given a choice.
Cultural and societal influences are very strong, especially in India. A “chubby” child signifies not only good health but also good parenting. We don’t realize that this little extra ghee and butter in our children’s food is pushing them towards being overweight, slowly and gradually enlarging their livers (even in kids as young as three). Children as young as 8 years are turning diabetic. Till 30 years ago it was rare to get type 2 diabetes in children, while today children are competing with adults. Unfortunately the changes these chronic diseases bring are irreversible and even if these kids go ahead and lose weight as adults. There is permanent damage to their blood vessels and other organs like kidneys, liver and heart. Apart from the physical changes, obese children tend to suffer from serious self esteem issues and isolation from their peers.
The term “silent killer” is truly an understatement.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for obesity. Prevention is our best bet!
We need to desperately increase the “sweat equity” of our children. They need to be pushed out of the house into open areas. Healthy eating must become a norm in the family. I can’t expect my son to eat fruit while I munch on Lays! From an early age, children must learn to respect their bodies. They must learn to take care of it and value good health. Children are the true agents of change and one healthy kid can change the health quotient of the entire family!
I guess I have made my point. I need to stop here because as I write this, half my attention is on getting my kid off that cartoon movie on the tablet. It is time to get our running shoes on and sweat it out!!
…… And before I finally log off, I do hope and pray that my son outlives me by a hundred years.
Aparna Govil Bhasker,