The FAT Truth: Young Lives At Risk

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The popularity of multimedia and easy access to fast food has caused many UAE youngsters to become alarmingly sedentary, leading to Obesity. Statistics noted by the UAE Government programme to eradicate childhood obesity indicate 12 per cent of children in the country are overweight, with 22 per cent of them at risk of obesity. In light of such worrying information, all efforts are being made to raise awareness of the dangers of obesity and promote healthy eating and exercise, now more than ever.

According to Dr. Mandar Bichu, Paediatrician at Dr. Mandar Medical Clinic, Sharjah, an obese child is one between the ages of two and 18 with an excess of body fat as measured by their body mass index (BMI). Girls with more than 32 per cent body fat are considered obese, as are boys with more than 25 per cent body fat.

Dr. Mandar Bichu, practicing Paediatrician in Sharjah, UAE. Author of Right Parenting and founder of major web portal on parenting and child's health ''

‘The most common causes to this epidemic rise of adolescent obesity is eating too much and exercising too little.’ says Dr. Mandar V. Bichu, also a recently published author of Right Parenting as well as founder of, a major web portal on parenting and child’s health established in 2007.

‘Children, unlike adults, need extra nutrients and calories to fuel their growth and development. So if they consume the calories needed for daily activities, growth and metabolism, they add kilograms in proportion to their growth. But children who eat more calories than needed, gain weight beyond what’s required to support their growing bodies.’ added Dr. Bichu, ‘Stress levels among teenagers, is yet another factor that escalates the growing concern of obesity among teenagers. With fierce educational competition among students develops incessant dependence over comfort foods.’ explained Dr. Bichu.

The UAE Government programme indicates at least 26 per cent of residents eat at fast food restaurant once a week. In addition, more than 40 per cent of children spend three hours a day in front of the television or on a computer. Warning parents about risks of excessive weight gain in youngsters, Dr. Bichu elaborated how overall health can be affected. Child obesity complications can cause high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and cancer in addition to psychological problems,” he said.

Media: a contributing factor to epidemic rise of Obesity

So, the burning question here, is media the sole reason to blame? “Media influence plays a strong mediator to teenager’s dietary habits, sometimes not everything they see is reality. Teenagers are prime targets to advertisements that are continuously screened on Television, which I think is one of the powerful mediums today.” said Dr. Bichu.

Hence, what can be done to avoid unhealthy weight gain and promote a healthy lifestyle? “This issue can be addressed most effectively by modifications in the entire family’s diet and lifestyle habits,” says Dr. Bichu.

He recommends starting the day with a healthy breakfast to ensure your teen has high energy levels throughout the day and prevent binge-eating. For the rest of the day, he suggests eating five servings of fruit and vegetables everyday, including portion in each meal served. Teenagers should be encouraged to enjoy at least an hour of physical activity per day, while limiting ‘screen time’ spent in front of the TV, since that promotes overeating,” says Dr. Bichu.

“Limit consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, which include store-bought fruit juices, flavoured or sweetened water and sodas which are falsely endorsed in media. Encourage drinking water and low fat milk instead.”

Youngsters pick Junk food over healthier options when given a choice

He also comments on how teenagers are manipulated by appealing advertisements that are on television, newspaper and internet. “This not only, affects the pattern of nutrition of one regional and ethnic group, but all of them at one time. So great is the strength of media and because of this excessive exposure, the younger generation pick Junk food over healthy food when given a choice.” he says.

When asked, is obesity the only eating orders than a teenager suffers from? Dr. Bichu says, “I have had few anorexic and bulimic cases which are complete opposites of obesity. Obesity is the most common problem among the teenagers. This is because of the latest trend that the teenagers are following- watching television, playing games and surfing net, no physical exercises, eating lots of dairy products and maintaining eating habits.”

Teenagers are multimedia addicts

“Obesity is not an illness, but a lifestyle disease.” says Dr. Bichu. The average citizen can see that the problem of obesity among teens is real by reading newspapers and walking the streets, but neither the experts nor the general public have the solutions to the problem. Teens spend much of their time in front of their computers or watching television programs. The eating habits of teens have also contributed to the growing obesity among teens. Teenagers eat fast food that is more available than when their parents and grandparents were teenagers. Poor nutrition and the lack of activity seem to be the reason for the problem.

As the reasons for the problem of obesity among teens seem to be clear, and many experts have begun to offer solutions. Teenagers should be offered nutritious lunches at schools. The administrators in schools should carefully watch the menus, and the menus should be changed to provide foods that are not fattening. Parents must also be educated about nutrition and encouraged to feed their teenagers nutritious food at home. “Another factor that influences adolescent obesity is that parents have been taking the wrong steps and asking the wrong questions. Parents usually relate ‘health’ equivalent to ‘weight’ which is wrong!” exclaimed Dr. Bichu, Parents are fixated on the ‘perfect’ weight for their child, which is again influenced by media. Mothers concerned on how much my child is eating is wrong again, it’s what they are eating that is important.” explained Dr. Bichu.

Along with ensuring a healthy diet and exercise, Dr. Bichu feels parents should take care not to make their child feel that they have singled out in the family. “Parents should avoid targeting interventions only to their overweight child, since that may lead to a negative self-image and lack of confidence,” he adds. “Talk to your child about the importance of eating well and active being but make it a family affair that will become second nature for everyone. Focus on health rather than weight, and involve your child in making the healthy food choices.”

Programs should be offered to get teenagers away from their computers and television sets. There should be more sports and social activities that promote movement that teenagers enjoy. Dancing and tennis will both burn up calories much more quickly than watching television so these activities should be more readily available for teenagers.
Photo Credits: Megna Kalvani


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