Child obesity a major cause of diabetes and heart diseases — Dr Aarti Ullal, Junior Consultant Endocrinology, Global Hospitals, Mumbai

Dr Aarti Ullal, Junior Consultant Endocrinology, Global Hospitals, Mumbai, gives an insight on how obese children are more prone to diabetes and discusses ways to eradicate the disease

Dr Arti Ullal

Dr Arti Ullal

Childhood obesity is one of the most grave public health concerns in today’s day and age. Childhood obesity occurs when a child or adolescent is above the average weight for his or her age and height. It is quite worrying because the excessive weight plagues children with health problems that were once considered adult problems. Obese children are prone to problems like diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver, sleep apnea, heart attack, joint problems, and psychological problems like poor self-esteem, bullying and stigmatisation.

Obese children have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In obese individuals, the cells of fat tissues have to process a lot more nutrients than they can manage. The stress in these cells triggers a swelling that releases a protein known as cytokines that blocks the signals of insulin receptors. This leads the cells to become insulin resistant. One of insulin’s primary roles is that it allows the cells to use glucose for energy. When one becomes resistant to insulin, their body is unable to convert the glucose into energy and this leads to a persistently high blood glucose level. Obesity can also increase the risk of developing risk factors that lead to various heart related diseases. In obese individuals, the heart has to work extra hard to pump blood throughout the body because of fatty substances accumulated in the arteries. This is known as hypertension. It is a condition where the blood pressure on the inner walls of the arteries is very high. Hypertension increases the risk for severe heart disease, such as coronary heart disease and heart failure.

Childhood obesity is prevalent worldwide and is increasingly distressing many poor and developing countries, particularly in urban settings. According to the WHO, globally, in 2016 the number of overweight children under the age of five was estimated to be over 41 million. In India, we are dealing with a ‘double jeopardy’ of obesity at one end and malnutrition at other end. According to the statistics sourced from the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, somewhere between 5.74 per cent and 8.82 per cent of schoolchildren in India are obese. This number is expected to rise in the coming years but this can be prevented by taking certain measures.

It is extremely important to educate families on factors related to the disease.

  • Regularly eating high-calorie foods such as fast foods, baked goods and snacks are the major factors that can cause obesity. Aerated and sugary drink can increase can act as catalyst in increasing sugar levels
  • Children should indulge themselves in outdoor activities. Sedentary activities, such as watching television or playing video games, can increase the risk of developing obesity
  • If a child comes from a family of overweight people, he or she may be more likely to put on weight
  • Children have tendency to overeat in stress or to fight boredom. Such unhealthy practices can be dangerous to their health