Amidst the glitz and glamour, the recent Golden Globe awards showed us glances of the famous, the rich, and the thin, representing a fraction of the ever-shrinking healthy population. Why? Due to a startling increase in the obesity rates across the world. In the past, the access to and the availability of food was less secure and susceptible to a whole range of natural mishaps and human conflicts. In the period of relative global peace since the Second World War, coupled with huge leaps in science that has helped plants become more resilient to harsher climates, food is now in great abundance worldwide. Of course, this depends on whether or not you live in a country where half of the food will rot due to inadequate storage technologies, thus leading to malnourishment and starvation of the destitute. However, the technological advances of the modern world has built not just comfort but also a lack of challenges in our daily lives – beyond inane consumerism – leading to indolence and, consequently, an obesity problem.
The most vulnerable portion of the global population affected by this pandemic is our next generation: the children. Childhood obesity is seen rising in both developed and developing countries, with a recent US study illustrating that obese 5-year-olds are four times as likely as to stay obese when they are 14 compared with children of normal weight. Although this is subject to many factors, such as continued diet and lifestyle of the children, it emphasises that preventing obesity must start from an early age. Education plays a central role in tackling: studies link additional years of education with a lower possibility of being obese. Moreover, both lower socio-economic mobility and lower educational attainment generally corresponds to higher obesity levels.
Specifically, education firstly assists in infusing both healthy habits and higher standards of living from an early age, facilitating children and their families to make informed choices that contribute to a healthy future. From a personal and mental development point of view, education removes the plague of instant pleasure and a sense of excess, which derives from parents usually indulging in their child’s every whim and not teaching him or her about the importance of moderation. Finally, it instils the time-honoured skill of critical thinking. Psychologically, a child with normal weight displays a greater form of self-esteem, as well as both fortitude and resistance towards being tempted and easy gratification. Additionally, education helps in informing children about the dangers found at the other end of the spectrum – eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia – that we see in today’s image-conscious world.
Think of the problem in the context of redesigning schools, chairs, desks, washrooms, and other assorted economic and social costs if this epidemic is not controlled. The process of reducing childhood obesity levels is not as easy as it sounds if we consider that the centres of education – schools – are not the only place that children spend their youthful days. True, schools that serve midday meals must include healthier options, but another huge influence to the child is the parents. At home, parents cannot be misinformed on childhood nutrition and its significance later in life. Genetic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, are widespread in South Asia due to a poor diet and are exacerbated by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Successfully controlling this unhealthy trend needs the inclusion of all concerned: civil society, governments, parents, schools, students, and the public sector. As part of a higher quality education during early childhood, becoming fit and not fat results in greater health and learning in children, poverty reduction, and, subsequently, increased social mobility. We owe it to ourselves to instil a healthy upbringing in our children; and that includes a proper diet.