Childhood obesity is a growing concern in the Indian migrant community

The simple act of switching on the TV for some downtime could be making a bigger contribution to childhood obesity than we realise, according to new research from the University of South Australia.

The study investigated the impact of different sitting behaviours – watching television, playing videogames, playing computer, sitting down to eat, or travelling in a car – and found that watching TV is more strongly associated with obesity in both boys and girls than any other type of sitting.

While childhood obesity is a global issue, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017-18 show that in Australia almost a quarter of children aged 5-17 years are considered overweight or obese.

UniSA researcher, Dr Margarita Tsiros says the study provides new insights about the impact of sedentary behaviours on children.

“It’s no surprise that the more inactive a child is, the greater their risk of being overweight,” Dr Tsiros says.

“But not all sedentary behaviours are created equal when it comes to children’s weight”.

The research found that how long children spend sitting may be less important that what they do when they are sitting.

“For instance, some types of sitting are more strongly associated with body fat in children than others, and time spent watching TV seems to be the worst culprit.”

The study assessed the sedentary behaviours of 234 Australian children aged 10-13 years who either were of a healthy weight (74 boys, 56 girls) or classified as obese (56 boys, 48 girls).

It found that, excluding sleep, children spent more than 50 per cent of their day sitting, with television dominating their time for 2.5 – 3 hours each day.

Dr Tsiros says that the study also found differences between the sitting behaviours of boys and girls.

“Boys not only watched more TV than girls – an extra 37 minutes per day – but also spent significantly more time playing video games,” Dr Tsiros says.

Video gaming and computer use being popular past times, the data reveals that these activities may be linked with higher body fat in boys.

“Boys who are sitting for longer than 30 minutes may also have higher body fat, so it’s important to monitor their screen and sitting time and ensure they take regular breaks.”

Childhood obesity is also a growing concern in the Indian migrant community.

Upon migrating to Australia, “there is a race amongst families to achieve more than the other,” said Dr Madhavi Sinha, paediatrician based in Melbourne’s west.

Parenting plays a big role in controlling obesity and lifestyle decisions into adulthood

With less and less time for cooking and consuming three proper meals a day, or sitting around a table for at least one family meal, families are opting for easy, heat-and-eat options as TV dinners.

Dr Madhavi believes that this norm has heavily affected children and infant health. She said that “more than 40% of children in her care are now obese, compared to about 5 per cent, 100 years back.

“Although, parents recognise this, yet are unable to make the necessary changes to their lifestyle.

“Takeaway dinners are a regular practice and with the advent of the delivery giants, people have even stopped walking the block to pick up their food.

Although genetics play a role, and Indians in general are not of the petite category, yet “the sedentary lifestyle, driving to work, school or to pick up food, lack of organised sports and more time in front of the TV or iPad are adding to childhood obesity and unhealthy choices into adulthood, Dr Madhavi said.

Echoing the same danger of childhood obesity, Dr Tsiros says that setting children up on a path towards a healthy weight is extremely important to their health now and in the future.

“When we look at adult obesity, almost two thirds of Australians are overweight or obese, which is causing many serious health issues,” Dr Tsiros says.

An earlier ANU (Australian National University) study in examining data of about 5,000 children aged between four and 11-years-old over a decade, found that children of immigrants had higher rates of obesity at every age.

This however, did not compare well with their counterparts from wealthier countries due to a gap in organised sport participation.

Research author Tehzeeb Zulfiqar had noted that the statistics pointed to higher obesity in all ages of immigrant children.

“Immigrant children also have more screen time and participate less in outdoor activities, which also increases their obesity risk,” Dr Zulfiqar said.

“An overweight child is more likely to grow up into an overweight adult, so the importance of tackling unhealthy behaviours in childhood is critical,” Dr Tsiros says.

Children who are obese have an increased risk of developing serious health disorders, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. They also experience reduced wellbeing, apart from social and self-esteem issues.

Ramakrishna VenuGopal

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