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1 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM
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Let’s Be Healthy

Sheikh Iraj
Let’s Be Healthy

Throughout the world, lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating habits are leading to lifestyle diseases. Children and youths of our country are increasingly suffering from these diseases. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), four main types of non-communicable diseases are diabetes, cancer, respiratory ailments, like asthma, and heart diseases. Today, children are spending more and more time on sedentary activities, such as watching TV, surfing the internet or playing video games. This means they hardly leave their homes to play outside or do some other physical activity. They also prefer to eat processed or fast foods, which have more calories than nutritional value, instead of fresh and nutritious homemade foods. And that kind of lifestyle is increasing incidence of obesity, or overweight, among children and young adults in our country, too. Now, what can we do to save our children from falling victim to such diseases? To find some answers, this week Y&I talked to some health experts, parents and teachers about healthy lifestyle, diet and exercise for our children.

M Asmoal Huqe, 30, a businessman who lives in Savar, has been suffering from weight problems since childhood. “I weighed 130 kilogrammes when I was in school. I always thought I was obese genetically. But later, I learned that my eating habit was the main problem. When I was in high school, I started working out in the gym and taking part in various sports. I lost more than 20 kg in no time. I also suffered from depression due to my weight, and I used to eat more because of that. Now, I weigh 110 kg and I want to turn my life around. Due to my obesity, I was not able to enjoy life to the fullest. I am even a little bit scared to get married. I recently saw a doctor who gave me a good diet and workout plan. Now, I know the solution to my problem is to increase my physical activity level and switch to a healthy lifestyle. That means walking more, not eating fast foods, avoiding sugary soft drinks, and so on.”            

Humayra Banu is a mother of two children. Her daughter, Lamia, grew up like any other normal child.  But when she entered university, she began eating fast food for her two main meals of the day. “When my daughter first started university, she had to go to class early in the morning and she had to take lunch outside at some fast food joint. Every day, she used to spend more than Taka 300 on eating out. My husband and I didn’t mind this for a couple of years, but then we found she was gaining weight drastically. When we took her to see a doctor, we came to know that all that sugar in fast foods was causing the weight gain. Initially, my daughter was depressed and she suffered from different health problems. So, we decided to take matters into our own hands _ my daughter and I got admitted to the women’s sports complex at Dhanmondi. There, they have some nice exercise programmes. In just a couple of months, my daughter was able to shed half of the extra weight she had gained. Now, she does not eat junk food that much and she exercises for about an hour every day. I see many girls like mine who suffer intensely due to obesity. I would urge them to exercise,” Banu told this correspondent.  

Active Healthy Kids Bangladesh (AHKBD) is an affiliate of Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance. Recently, AHKBD and National Heart Foundation Bangladesh organised a workshop on ‘Development of Country Report Card on Physical Activity of Children and Youth in Bangladesh’. The organisers informed the workshop how they, along with other stakeholders, would try to influence government policies to promote physical activity among children.

Asad Khan, a professor and chair of AHKBD, told this correspondent: “Our data clearly show that the obesity rate in our country is going high dramatically. We know from different research data that 60 per cent of our children and youths are not as physically active as they should be. About 80 per cent of the children are spending nearly twice the acceptable time in front of a screen. Research indicates it is safe for children to spend two hours in front of a TV screen or PC monitor, but 50 per cent of children and youths are spending double that time. There are fast food and sweet drinks available everywhere, and everyone has access to them. It doesn’t matter if one is eating Tk 400 worth of food at a renowned fast food chain or Tk 25 of shrimp head fries from a street food stall. All these factors are contributing to obesity.”

“Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance (AHKGA) has organised the concurrent preparation of report cards on the physical activities of children and youths in 38 countries on six continents, representing 60 per cent of the world’s population. Now, Active Healthy Kids Bangladesh is going to prepare a report card for Bangladesh. The report card is not going to be a factsheet; rather it will show 10 to 15 indicators that are causing low physical activity and obesity among children and youth. It will focus on our strengths and weaknesses. We are going to publish this report card in November this year. We have carried out a survey at six schools and observed over 800 students. One student out of every four has depression, and it is worse among girls. We know 150 minutes of exercise weekly reduces the chance of various diseases. The report card will help us bring changes in policy and practice,” Khan added.        

Obesity is one of the prime reasons behind type-2 diabetes in children. Dr Bedora Zabeen, paediatric endocrinologist at BIRDEM 2 hospital in Dhaka, told Y&I: “Today, when it comes to obesity among children, parents are not playing their role actively. I have seen that many parents don’t mind if their children become fat. In the morning, children go to school, then to coaching centres and then for private lessons. They do not get any free time to play. I think parents should pay the same kind of attention when it comes to children’s education and health. Before, people used to develop blood pressure and type-2 diabetes after reaching 60 years of age, but now we can see children as young as 10-12 years old suffering from such diseases. A few years back, as part of research for Changing Diabetes in Children programme, we visited some schools. We found obesity among 14 per cent of children, and 20 per cent were overweight. At the time, many English-medium schools refused to cooperate with us, giving lame excuses like they do not have time. If we do not take the matter seriously, than in the next 10 years the situation will be out of control. In 2010, the rate of diabetes among children was 2 per cent and in 2015, that number increased to 15 per cent. “

Shohana Safique, assistant scientist and deputy project coordinator, Universal Health Project icddr,b, told this correspondent: “There are two types of malnutrition and they are under-nutrition and over-nutrition. Today, we can see micronutrient deficiency among school children. For example, a person may look healthy or somewhat overweight, but that person also could be suffering from lack of micronutrients. We call it hidden hunger. We are quickly transforming from a low-income country to a middle-income country. This is causing rapid urbanisation and it is bringing a number of changes to people’s lives. Lifestyles and dietary patterns are being affected. Today, parents are showing more interest in readymade and processed foods. In place of buying fresh fruits, parents are buying packet or bottled fruit juices for their children. Also, all over the country children’s vegetable intake is getting lower. That is why there is no dietary diversity in the foods our children are eating.”  

“On the other hand, due to lack of playing fields and concern for safety are forcing parents to stop their children from going out to play in the open. Most parents are taking their children to school using some sort of vehicle rather than walking, even if the school is very near. Today, children are following a dietary plan that consists of more fat and carbohydrates. They are following a sedentary lifestyle. Children’s screen time has gone up. There are many who know about healthy food choices. But they are unable to follow it due to the environment they live in. So in a way, they are forced to choose an unhealthy diet. According to a 2016 WHO research data, 9 per cent of school children aged 5 to10 are obese or overweight in Bangladesh. Stunting is a major problem in our country, which means our children are not reaching the height or physical growth they are supposed to. Stunting is followed by obesity and that is causing non-communicable diseases. Many sweet drinks or sodas have no proper labelling on them. Chips or processed foods contain a lot of salt and sodium and they are not good for children. We believe we need to create more awareness among schoolchildren and adolescents who are between 5 to19 years old. I think government regulations have to be implemented more in such cases, and the media certainly has a role to play in generating more awareness among the people.”

Photos: File, Internet.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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