The hours spent cooped up in classrooms and in front of electronic gadgets was bound to have an effect: A cross-sectional screening of nearly one lakh children across schools in Bengaluru has shown that almost 20.7% were either overweight or obese, and 13.3% at risk of developing lifestyle diseases in adulthood.

The results of the screening, conducted by healthcare startup, AddressHealth, between January and December 2016, tie in with a 2015 study conducted by researchers from St. John’s Research Institute (SJRI).

According to the study led by Rebecca Kuriyan, associate professor in clinical nutrition and lifestyle management, SJRI, which sampled 1,913 schoolchildren in Bengaluru, high obesity indicators were associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure.

“More than obesity, the levels of overweight children had increased in the last few years in both research and clinical practice,” said Dr. Kuriyan, who has been studying childhood obesity for several years. “A waist-to-height ratio greater than 0.5 puts them at risk of hypertension and other lifestyle diseases in adulthood. Measuring this ratio is an inexpensive initial screening tool that everyone can use,” Dr. Kuriyan said. She added that armed with this information, parents could make positive lifestyle changes like increasing physical activity and inculcating healthy eating habits, which would protect children in the future.

The AddressHealth survey included a equal number of children from private schools ranging from affordable (where fees are less than ₹15,000 a year) to expensive schools (where fees was more than ₹45,000 a year). “The aim is to bring preventive healthcare to parents, so that they understand the need to instil healthy habits in their children,” said Anand Lakshman, founder of AddressHealth. “If we can identify health problems at a young age and take corrective measures early on, we will be making an investment in their future well-being,” he added.

The screening threw up other startling results too. Nearly 30% of the children needed some kind of dental intervention, and 13.6% had vision problems.

Trend across the country

Obesity and overweight levels have increased sharply in India in the last 15 years.

A WHO-supported study collated data from 52 different studies across the country to show that combined prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity recorded between 2013 and 2015 was 19.3%, a significant increase from the earlier prevalence of 16.3% reported in 2001-2005. The study was published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research in February 2016 titled ‘Epidemiology of childhood overweight & obesity in India: A systematic review’.

One of the researchers behind the study, Krishnan Anand, professor at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, said childhood stunting owing to poor nutrition in early childhood was also contributed to the high levels of obesity among Indian adults.

“Since Body Mass Index is inversely proportional to square of height and early nutrition plays a major role in determining height, a person who was stunted owing to poor economic conditions is likely to have increased BMI when their economic situation improves later on,” Dr. Anand said.

Terming obesity as a neglected health issue in the country, he blamed the reduced importance given to physical activity in schools and homes for the current crisis.

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