Obesity levels in Bengaluru are still alarmingly high.

Bengaluru grows less playgrounds more junk food 13 kids are obese
news Thursday, June 02, 2016 - 19:56

Disappearing tree cover, air pollution, and rising temperatures all seem rather obvious symptoms of Bengaluru’s rapid urbanization. But here’s another unintended result that’s emerged from a recent WHO-commissioned study on childhood obesity. The study found that while obesity was lower in south India than in the north, obesity levels in Bengaluru are still alarmingly high with 13.1% of children obese.

Earlier in 2014, another study done in the city showed that 27.1% of children were overweight and 13.7% of children were obese. Much of this growing problem, say experts is being caused by the rapid urbanisation of the city and the unhealthy habits that come with it, namely reduced physical activity and a growing availability of fast food.

“There is a lack of physical activity in children’s routines across the city,” remarks Dr Chaitali Gore, a corresponding author of the Bengaluru-specific study. “Many of the observations in the study were linked to the growing urban culture in Bengaluru. Children not only need to eat healthy food but also exercise a lot,” she added.

However, with a 925% increase in concretisation in the last four decades, Bengaluru has little space left in the city for physical activity. Thanks to such rapid urbanization, there appears to be no space for playgrounds in Bengaluru schools.

Indeed, in December 2015, the Karnataka High Court ruled that schools must no longer be required to mandatorily have playgrounds. The Education Department had issued a notification specifying mandatory sizes of playgrounds for all schools, but the High Court directed that the department should not insist on each school possessing its own playground.

Junk food, another trend that proliferates with urbanisation, has also contributed to the growing obesity levels. In this context, Women and Child Development minister Maneka Gandhi’s proposal of banning junk food in schools (mooted in 2015) resonates with the concerns of paediatrician’s in Bengaluru.

Dr Prashanth Nayak, a paediatrician in Koramangala, for instance says, “Banning junk food in schools will definitely help in tackling this issue. Without access to junk food, children will adopt healthier eating habits for at least one meal a day. Schools play a big role in supporting healthy behaviors in the form of healthy eating habits and promoting games and sports.”

Viswanathan Mohan, author of the country-wide WHO-commissioned study on obesity, also agreed that banning junk food in schools is a viable solution. “In the US, there is a classic example in California where sweetened beverages were banned in schools and this helped to reduce the obesity rates in schools. Children should also be taught that drinking clean water which has zero calories is much healthier instead of drinking sweetened beverages which are very high in calories”, he said

Of particular concern among the 2014 Bengaluru study’s results is the finding that levels of obesity are higher among primary school students with close to 40.5% children being overweight and 39.5% being obese. “Families should encourage healthier habits and go against the culture of eating junk food. Parents naturally want the child to eat a lot but a child should also get a lot of physical activity along with adequate amount of food,” says Chaitali.

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