Children take part in a cricket coaching camp in Kolkata on November 12, 2017. (Photograph: PTI)

Six Ways To Keep Our Children Healthy

Our children are our true wealth, our future, and the ones who hold the key to our heart and to our hopes. Our young population is, however, not in its best shape. We are probably the only country with a high number of underweight children — at 43 percent, the highest amongst developing countries — and also the second highest number of obese children in the world. Double whammy, and then add the third angle to this, micronutrient deficiencies — anemia, low levels of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, etc.

It’s a complex problem, one that will need urgent steps from multiple agencies and government bodies to get resolved but in the meanwhile, there are things that we can change as parents, schools, and society. The big thing that needs to change is our attitude and awareness.

We can then take small but significant steps towards ensuring a better future for our children, one that is filled with health and joy.

A better today is the only way to have a better future.

Here are the top six things we can adopt as a family/society to protect the interests of our future generations:

1. Say No

I.Family is a five-year-long study across the European Union, that studied the environment kids grow up in, to understand rising obesity amongst EU adolescents. Here’s the message that they have for parents – Say No.

The next time your kids pull out their pester power over an iPad, a box of chips, cola or chocolate, say a firm “No”.

It is, as the study reveals, the only way to protect your children from developing cardio-metabolic syndrome in the future. That includes obesity, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver, etc.

College students use their Apple  and Sony Ericsson smartphones in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Kainaz Amaria/Bloomberg)
College students use their Apple and Sony Ericsson smartphones in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Kainaz Amaria/Bloomberg)

2. Move

Fatty liver or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as it is called is a reversible condition but it is affecting more kids than ever in the last five years. This happens when there is hyperinsulinemia, a condition where the muscles stop responding to insulin and the body produces more than required levels of this hormone, which the liver then has to deal with.

Helping kids build age-appropriate muscle strength is important here and that comes from staying active and simply playing (real, not virtual).

A minimum of 90 minutes every single day, prioritised over everything else.

A boy tries out a virtual reality entertainment system at a store in the Mcleod Ganj area of Dharamshala, India. (Photographer: Sara Hylton/Bloomberg)
A boy tries out a virtual reality entertainment system at a store in the Mcleod Ganj area of Dharamshala, India. (Photographer: Sara Hylton/Bloomberg)

3. Cook

Nutrition societies across the globe are of the opinion that children should be involved in cooking when they are as young as 4 years old and that it should be a part of school syllabus. Cooking, after all, is a life-saving skill and when our children learn how much water goes into atta before it turns into roti, or how a little teaspoon of dahi in lukewarm milk can turn into curd within eight hours, etc., their life takes a turn for the better and opens endless opportunities of creativity.

Roti being made at a home in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)
Roti being made at a home in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

4. Decode Advertisements

In South American countries like Chile you cannot advertise packaged products to children, a far cry from our on-screen mommies who gush over their little one (always male) as he drinks corn syrup and preservative-loaded powders in milk that are masked as protein and Vitamin D sources or things that help improve memory or height. There is even a commercial now that lures kids into winning an iPhone after watching certain hours of a cartoon channel. Virat Kohli should get an award for refusing to endorse a cola giant anymore. But mostly, we don’t hold our celebrities accountable, they can sell us cola, chips, instant noodles as long as there is a good-looking commercial with a hummable jingle to go with.

The food industry casts a wide net and ensures that you are always buying, not thinking or cooking.

In a sense, we are truly Cola-nised. In the absence of regulation on commercials, the onus is on parents and schools to actively teach kids how to decode them.

Coca-Cola beverages are placed on a shelf in a store in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg)
Coca-Cola beverages are placed on a shelf in a store in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg)

5. Undo Alcohol

There is nothing cool about introducing your sixteen-year-old or even your eighteen-year-old to alcohol.

Instead, you need to introduce them to ways to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the future and prevent them from suffering and disabilities they cause. Alcohol, along with tobacco, a poor diet and lack of exercise is one of the four major risk factors for NCDs. While we do acknowledge the other three as risks, alcohol has gotten away by projecting itself as cool and socially acceptable. This needs to change and the media has a role to play. So does the civil society.

A customer purchases a bottle of Old Monk rum at a roadside liquor store in Gurgaon, Haryana. (Photographer: Udit Kulshrestha/Bloomberg)
A customer purchases a bottle of Old Monk rum at a roadside liquor store in Gurgaon, Haryana. (Photographer: Udit Kulshrestha/Bloomberg)

6. Equal

Gender equations at home affect children’s health in ways that we cannot fathom, but the effects are for all of us to see. When we go to villages and see little girls in uniforms washing clothes after school and little boys playing cricket in the field, we must know that we play out a version of this in our homes too.

The father switches television channels, rarely cooks, and stares at his gadget at the family table while the mother stays responsible and is on her toes for daily household chores.
Shabana Khan makes roti for her husband and four children in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)
Shabana Khan makes roti for her husband and four children in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

This is a far cry from a gender-equal society that we hope our children grow up in. Recognise this and change this, now.

Rujuta Diwekar is India's leading nutrition and exercise science expert.

The views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of Bloomberg Quint or its editorial team.

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