……and no wide-open spaces to run in, and even if there were, I don’t have the time to do so. There’s my face book page to update and emails to reply to. I’m addicted to my play station and I do have to spend some time everyday on school work.”
As a result, of variations on the above-mentioned situation, 24 percent of the adolescents and 12 percent of children in urban India are obese. This is a sad state of affairs considering the fact that this has transpired in the span of just one generation.
So what causes ‘childhood obesity’, a precursor to adult lifestyle diseases, and how can one prevent it? The answers always lie in a combination of the two basic health mantras – a healthy diet and lots of exercise.
The Right Kind of Food
Perhaps the biggest myth that pervades most families, is that children should be allowed to eat anything that they want, because they are growing, and need the calories, besides which they can burn off the extra calories. Well, we are wrong on both counts. Typically a teenager requires approximately 2000 calories a day, to maintain his or her current weight. This is however an extremely rough figure, because it depends on the youngster’s body frame, activity level and gender. The numbers here are not important, what is important is that a teenager eats the right kind of food in adequate quantities, and is persuaded to avoid junk. This will ensure that the palette gets trained from a young age, so that even as an adult, it becomes extremely natural to eat healthy.
The basis of sound nutrition always goes back to the food pyramid, where the requirements are (by total calorific value):
- 45% – 65% of carbohydrates;
- 12% – 15% of protein and
- less than 30% of fats
Where carbohydrates are concerned, it is important to remember that, the less processed it is, the more nutritional value it has. Therefore, chappatis made of wheat flour, red or brown rice, and whole wheat bread what we should be opting for.
Protein is crucial in the diet of a growing child, because the deposits of calcium that are stored in the skeleton are like deposits in a bank. The more you deposit during the growing years, the less your probability of breaking a bone in your twilight years. Milk and eggs are some of the best sources of absorbable calcium. A teenager needs 3-4 glasses of skimmed, unsweetened milk every day. If your teenager is weight conscious, do inform him/her, that recent research has pointed out, that milk is one of the most powerful foods in a calorie watcher’s diet. In fact, it actually helps you shed the unwanted flab.
With rising levels of affluence, it has become a fashion to make sweetened cereals consisting of processed wheat or corn, breakfast staples, which is one of the primary causes for children being obese and improperly nourished. Pray what happened to the good old ragi, wheat or oats porridge? A cup of one of these (cooked with lots of milk and a spoon of honey, if required, for sweetness), with some fruit (dry and/or fresh) along with an egg cooked with as little oil as possible, makes for a perfect teenage breakfast. It contains all the nutrients to power the body and mind for the day ahead, without being heavy or oily.
As you go along the day, make sure that the young one’s diet contains large doses of fruit and fresh vegetables. Do not pander to requests for sweets and fried stuff. Reserve that for weekends or a special treat. Dry and fresh fruit will satisfy that sweet tooth perfectly, and a crunchy salad is a perfect substitute for chips and samosas. A little discipline on your part right in the beginning will ensure that your child has healthy eating habits for life, and does not have to spend his or her life yo-yoing from one crash diet to the next.
Then there is the exercise aspect. During the week, a child needs an hour or an hour and a half’s intensive exercise every day. This is crucial for the following reasons:
- To ward off obesity and other lifestyle diseases
- Full development of the skeletal system and organs
- To combat the stress levels that most children are subjected to today
Make sure that your child takes part in a variety of sports and perhaps a form of martial arts. The various types of exercise need to be balanced, so that all three requirements of an exercise program are fulfilled:
- Aerobic activity to develop the heart and lungs – running, badminton, a game of football maybe?
- Developing strength – rowing or tennis are excellent to develop strength in the upper body
- Flexibility – yoga or any form of martial arts will develop flexibly and strength
Strength or Resistance training can be started from the age of 12/13, but under the supervision of a well qualified instructor who will ensure that correct “form” is maintained, and that boys especially do not overstrain or injure themselves, by using weights that are too heavy.
Weekends are crucial in the life of a teenager, not only from a “thank God it’s Friday and school is out” point of view, but also because, you can make exercise part of a lot of fun activities including treks, cycling trips, rock climbing. This outdoor fun is the stuff memories are made of and let the children learn from an early age that exercise can be enjoyable, and that the wide open outdoors are their giant playground. In addition, you will reduce the time spent in front of that play station and television.
Ultimately it all boils down to the big C, common sense. Combine it with a bit of discipline, to ensure that your young one is set on the path of good health for life.
About the Author:
Sunitha Srinivasan is a Lifestyle Consultant and Resistance Trainer. She has qualified with the National Association for Fitness Certification, Arizona, USA. She conducts workshops on wellness that she calls ‘A Celebration of Life’, counsels on the management of lifestyle diseases and writes for leading journals and magazines.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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