What is Mantra to Prevent Childhood Obesity?
Being physically very active is the mantra to prevent pediatric obesity!
Pediatric obesity means presence of obesity (and overweight) in infants, children and adolescents ranging in age from birth to the age of 17 or 18. Obesity, that is having too much body fat, is different from being overweight which is ‘weighing too much’. Children grow at different rates, so their BMI is not a specific number. BMI in children is calculated based on their weight and height taking into account their gender and age. It is listed as a percent. Children aged 2 and older could be obese if their BMI is at or higher than 95th percentile.
Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition since it leads to health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, once thought to affect only the adults. Further, childhood obesity can also be the cause of low self-esteem and consequently depression.
Previous researches pointed to the concept that diet and physical activity were two prime concerns as regards prevention of obesity in children. The researchers have previously believed that some children put on excess weight compared to others due to the genetic factor; however the environmental factors influence their energy intake and expenditure. This led to restriction of energy providing carbohydrate and fatty food in the diet of the child at risk of becoming overweight. Although diet restriction and exercise helps obese adults to lose weight, it was not found to work in young people. Most studies could not find a consistent link between diet, physical activity and body fat in children.
In an article in the journal Nature recently research analyst Gutin has taken a different approach to pediatric obesity. Surveys in his study revealed that obese kids seemed to consume less dietary energy than their lean counterparts for whatever reasons thus ‘dis-balancing’ the energy balance theory. The scientific community feared that restricting energy intake in youth may hamper the nutritional demands of growth. So the solution to preventing obesity in children lies in physical activity, according to these scientists.
An interesting debate published in the International Journal of Obesity suggests that ‘we can help youths to develop healthy bodies if we focus more attention on promoting vigorous physical activity rather than restricting energy intake’. The new research focuses on the effect of physical activity on body composition rather than weight. The researchers found that vigorous physical activity (PA) ‘stimulates stem cells to differentiate into bone and muscle cells rather than to fat cells; that is, the ingested energy and nutrients tend to be partitioned into lean tissue rather than into fat tissue’. Researchers felt that BMI could not indicate the level of obesity in children since the use of ‘weight’ for calculating BMI includes both fat mass and fat-free mass. Vigorous physical activity increases muscle and bone mass and reduces fat mass, so the net BMI does not change significantly.
In line with this argument, a study, on general and visceral adiposity with respect to physical activity and diet in adolescents, published in the same journal concluded – ‘Higher energy throughput, not energy restriction, characterize leaner youths. Youths should be advised to engage in vigorous physical activity so that they can eat sufficient calories to obtain the nutrients required for optimal health while remaining lean’.
Since the area of research on stem cell differentiation is relatively very new, the complex mechanisms of its working is yet to be factually determined. Two things are however very clear – first, mechanical signals stimulating the deposition of energy (nutrients) into bone and muscle tend to direct nutrients away from fat, and secondly, mechanical signals that prevent development of fatness do not necessarily imply that they effectively reduce fatness of already obese subjects. Therefore, recent studies emphasize on prevention of childhood obesity rather than treatment of the same.
On the whole, what the scientists are suggesting is that pediatric obesity can be prevented if we concentrated more on making kids take up regular vigorous physical activities such as dancing, athletics, strength training and other physical sports rather than emphasizing on dietary changes that involve restriction of energy intake which can harm their growth and physical as well as mental development.
But again, this should not be construed as license to indulge in fatty junk foods and sugar-sweetened beverages. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends dietary practices that encourage moderation rather than over-consumption. The organization emphasizes ‘healthful choices rather than restrictive eating patterns’. Further it recommends that children below two years of age should not be allowed to watch television at all and older children limit TV viewing to not more than 1 to 2 hours. It also advises children to be more physically active inside and outside, and develop a love for sports such as swimming, walking, and tennis.