AN INCREASE in overweight and obesity in children, especially in urban areas, as studies suggest, is worrying. Obesity and overweight left unattended can turn into a serious public health problem. A 2018 study of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University based on 504 schoolchildren aged 9–14 years in five schools of the capital city shows that 12.9 per cent of them are overweight and 10.9 per cent have obesity. Another study of the Imperial College London and the World Health Organisation, published in the Lancet in 2017, shows that more children and teenagers in Bangladesh are obese now than ever before — 3 per cent for boys in 2016, which was 0.03 per cent in 1975, and 2.3 per cent for girls in 2016, from almost zero four decades ago. Both the studies attribute the reasons for the increase in obesity to factors such as change in food habit, lack of physical activity, addiction to electronic games, family history of obesity, socio-economic condition and parental education.
Studies also suggest that children of high- and middle-income families are more vulnerable to overweight and obesity as they consume excessive calories by way of taking energy-rich fast food, outlets of which have mushroomed mostly around schools. The situation is exacerbated by the lack of outdoor sports facilities. Most of the urban children live in nuclear families and spend their time either studying for long hours or playing electronic games and watching television. In Dhaka, for example, the detailed area plan provisions for at least 1,200 playgrounds for its 15 million people but the city has only 150 playgrounds, only 40 of which are accessible by children. Besides the dearth of outdoor sports facilities, security concern also holds back parents from letting out their children, who are, as a result, forced to stay indoors with their pent-up energy. The situation would further increase risk factors in children if it is allowed to continue as childhood obesity is said to affect children’s physical health and social and emotional well-being and can lead to undesirable consequences such as premature mortality and morbidity in adulthood. An awareness of and immediate action to resolve the crisis are what is warranted now. The government, relevant agencies and parents should address the issue seriously and step up efforts to facilitate right diet and outdoor sport facilities for children.
It is high time that the government and parents came forward to free children of the burden of overweight and obesity. Fast food business must also be regulated while an adequate number of playgrounds should be opened to children. Parents must also be made aware of the positive impact of outdoor sports and the negative impact of wrong diet on children’s health.
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