Silent killers of children

Silent killers of children

When William Shakespeare said “Yon Cassius hath a lean and hungry look, such men are dangerous…” he sent a wrong signal. But then, Shakespeare was not aware of the risks of obesity.

Now, five centuries later, medical science has revealed its dangers — especially childhood obesity. We must forget the Bard’s words and take serious note of what the doctors have to say.

Studies have revealed that India has the second highest number of obese children in the world. Fifteen million and still counting. It is an irony that side by side with poverty’s malnutrition, obesity is taking its toll amidst affluence.

READ: Malnutrition: When the system fails children

Both poor and rich children are at risk of contracting serious ailments — either stunted growth, severe anaemia and susceptibility to infections among the former — or heart disease, diabetes and kidney failure among the rich. One can see that the latter is more serious and life threatening.

The worst of these is the deadly diabetes mellitus which is said to have affected nearly 98,000 teenaged children in this country already. There may be thousands more of unreported cases. Karnataka alone has listed hundreds.

Although heredity factors do play a large role in this type of diabetes, unhealthy eating habits can aggravate the condition. All this should sound a warning bell to parents who pamper children with unhealthy food habits.

The biggest culprits are ready to eat processed foods which are loaded with trans fats, preservatives, salt and sugar. Treating kids with these silent killers has become the norm today among the wealthy and not so wealthy too. In addition to this, schools also add to the problem by allowing tuck shops and vendors to make a killing outside their gates by tempting children to buy their goodies and eat them.

Unless there is a concerted effort to fight these killers by school authorities and health professionals, the Indian child — both rich and poor — is sitting on a tinder box waiting to explode.

A visit to schools in an English suburb was a real eye opener to me. Since the UK ranks the fifth highest in the world for children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes which has to be treated with insulin, many state-run schools have taken precautions to wean their students away from junk food.

I saw notices hanging in classrooms telling pupils what they should eat to keep healthy and strong. The schools also made it compulsory for students to eat lunch and snacks provided by the schools.

These consisted of fruits, salads, lentils and whole wheat bread which they could eat as much as they liked. Sugary drinks were a strict no-no.

Many private schools in the US also supply in-house meals so that children are compelled to eat healthy. If private schools in this country provide similar facilities, the health of children who gorge on killer foods will be protected.

Perhaps, kids who attend government schools where free lunches are provided are more fortunate. Their lunches consist of ordinary nourishment. Even their “tuck shops” selling peanuts and guavas offer healthy options.

Junk food advertisements also add to the problem. Children are lured by pizza and ice cream ads displayed in public places, TV channels and shopping malls. If governments are serious about tackling life threatening diseases in the younger population, they should ban such ads in all public places and spaces.

Just as vendors of such food should be strictly prohibited in the vicinity of all educational institutions. Private schools need greater surveillance in this respect.

If these schools serve a healthy diet to their pupils as done in other countries, added to regular exercise sessions,  their pupils will be weaned out of consuming harmful products and spend more time on outdoor activities.  

Schools could also include measures like parental advice by inviting doctors to talk to young parents about the dangers of permitting excessive TV viewing and other sedentary habits of their children added to eating useless food.

Vital matters

Lectures by specialists on these vital matters will go a long way to educate parents and save their children. Schools must consider such interventions as important as academics.  

Unless they are put in place with proper safeguards to ensure that they are not violated, our children will continue to be at risk. Especially if they have a family history of diabetes which increases the risk.

The irreversible complications of juvenile diabetes like heart disease, nerve damage, retinal damage and kidney failure should sound alarm bells in parents.

If they want their children to grow into healthy adults and lead meaningful lives, they should encourage their children to play more and eat less.

The fight against childhood obesity and its dangers cannot succeed without the cooperation of parents. It starts at the dining table at home.