Obesity has a huge impact on physical health, psycho-social and mental health, and can increase the risk of depression, especially among children and adolescents, said doctors on Friday.

Obesity is one of the fastest-growing chronic health conditions, rising quite rapidly in children and adolescents.

The World Obesity Federation in a 2023 report predicted that in the next 12 years, more than 51 percent of the world’s population will be overweight or obese.

“Being obese can lead children to experience subtle forms of teasing and discrimination, they might develop the tendency to stay isolated and turn to food as a comfort,” Dr. Arun Bhardwaj, Consultant – Minimal access and Bariatric surgery, HCMCT Manipal Hospitals, Dwarka, told IANS.

“When compared with normal-weight children, those with obesity have a 32 percent greater chance of developing depression. This number is even higher for young girls and they have a 44 percent higher chance of developing depression when compared with normal-weight girls,” added Dr. Aparna Govil Bhasker, Consultant Bariatric and Laparoscopic Surgeon at Saifee Hospital, Mumbai.

Childhood obesity has now become an epidemic in India.

According to a national study, about 14.4 million obese children are in India, and it has the second-highest number of obese children in the world, next to China.

“Obesity and depression are closely related and can have a major impact on a child’s life. Lack of playtime with friends and inability to participate in games like peers can cause depression in children. This becomes a vicious cycle where the child starts binge eating as comfort food which in turn leads to more complications,” Dr. Bhardwaj told IANS.

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In addition, obese children are also more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, and weight bias both in school and family settings.

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“Parents’ lack of knowledge and awareness about obesity leads to an inability to guide their children and may sometimes lead to increased mental anxiety in both. Children with obesity tend to suffer from neglect and are poorly treated. Together, this can lead to increased stress which further aggravates emotional eating behavior, poor sleep, and fatigue, in turn leading to more weight gain,” Dr. Bhasker added.

Further, childhood obesity also has other health implications.

Obese children are at increased risk of hypertension, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol and triglycerides, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, respiratory problems, emotional disturbances, and some cancers.

Two in three obese children will also remain obese as adults and at risk for adult lifestyle diseases.

In girls, childhood obesity can lead to “irregular menstruation, endometrial polyps, stress urinary incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse in later life”, said Dr. Surabhi Siddhartha, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospital, Mumbai.

“Obesity can cause insulin resistance later which is commonly seen in those with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Having PCOS will further increase weight, making them feel embarrassed and lonely,” she added.

Both parents and teachers have an important role to play when it comes to supporting children and adolescents with obesity.

Parents must be conscious about inculcating good eating habits in their children. They must limit exposure to junk food and sugary drinks and encourage kids to have more fresh fruits and vegetables. Screen time must be limited and there must be an emphasis on pushing the children out to play in open areas, Dr. Bhasker said.

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She also called upon schools to stop keeping junk food and sugary drinks in canteens.