Do not let your sons die

dr-nailiniI was numbed with grief today! I received a telephone call in-forming me that Sanjay, the son of our dear friend and neighbor, had passed away due to sudden heart failure. His problem? He was diabetic, very obese, and only 27 years old! His death has set me thinking about eating behaviors and parenting methods of the Indian community, specifically many in the middle class.

Take the example of Sanjay’s parents. His father is a software engineer working with a multinational firm and his mother is a lecturer with Delhi University. They are thus a typical middle class family in urban India, with comfortable earnings. They have two children; a daughter who is a doctor and married and Sanjay who was their second child. The parents pampered the children, especially their son.

The children were given the latest gadgets and watched TV whenever they liked; their recreations were online games and games in the malls. Every event was celebrated with a party at McDonalds or Pizza Hut since those fast food restaurants were considered prestigious. Both the parents were working and advancing their career, so they had very little time to cook or eat together as a family. In short, the family did everything wrong when it came to nutrition.

When Sanjay was diagnosed with diabetes four years ago, they were troubled, but despite the doctor’s advice and some efforts made, there was little change in his weight. A young life was eventually snuffed out due to obesity and its complications!

The World Health Organization has recognized the importance of the obesity epidemic. India is just emerging as the obesity hub. Research reveals that the number of overweight children in India ranges from 10% to 30 %, while obese children are in the range of 5%-7%. Considering the population of India these numbers range from 12- 40 million overweight children, and 2-2.5 million obese children! These are big numbers, and while we grapple with the problem of under-nutrition and underweight children, we cannot ignore obesity which is spreading its tentacles to debilitate our children or snatch them away from us.

Affluent states of Punjab, Kerala and Delhi have higher prevalence where less physical activity,
television, and junk food are the chief culprits. Obesity leads to many chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease due to atherosclerosis, which may occur as early as 11 years of age.

Such children are also teased and bullied leading to low self-esteem, depression and other psychological problems. These are extremely worrisome developments; the Indian Diaspora must wake up to these facts and take action to protect their children and prevent untimely and unnecessary disease and death.

There is no single solution like a magic wand to solve this problem! Collective effort is required from the government, industry, media and parents to nip this trend. Haphazard and unrestricted construction is gobbling up open spaces. Government regulations must be passed to limit and streamline construction to ensure availability of parks and walkways.

Fast food industry must also shoulder the responsibility by serving healthier options, smaller portion sizes, and display of calorie contents. Media should limit advertisement of carbonated drinks and juices with high sugar content.

However, parents too need to play a major role. Today, both the parents go out for work and they try to compensate for their absence, by providing children with the latest gadgets and other luxury goods, thus increasing the communication gap and pushing them towards obesity. A few simple lifestyle changes by the parents will go a long way!

• Parents, please play with your child! This will benefit the entire family and there will be no need to visit the gym for exercise.

• Parents, please eat meals as a family! Discuss the day’s events rather than sitting in front of the TV, or each member becoming busy with his/her own gadget.

• Parents, cook your own meals! Processed food and fast food both are tickets to weight gain. Revert to cooking fresh food.

Let us save our children. Next time when you plan a party at McDonalds pause to think of Sanjay. No child should die due to obesity!

Nalini Tandon, MBBS, PGDHHM, is Master in Public Health (MPH) candidate 2015

Dr Nalini Tandon