An major new survey has uncovered a worrying lack of awareness of diet and eating habits by both children and their parents.
And in a development that will startle Western observers, it found that the vast majority of mothers believe that saturated fats are good for their child’s health.
The results come from a three-year study of 1,800 children aged between nine and 18. The research took place by the Diabetes Foundation of India (DFI) and its findings were recently accepted by international peer-review journal Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism.
Researchers also learnt that while 19.2% boys and 18.1% girls were either overweight or obese, and a massive 65% of their mothers were in a similar condition. This equates to at least 15m overweight children in India.
Parents no role models
The shocking nature of these figures might well stem from the fact that parents’ awareness levels about diet are low, and many think that their child’s obesity was no more than baby fat, and it would eventually go away, the survey revealed.
Many also consider food healthy as long as it is “hygienically prepared”; and worse, 89.2%, 79.2% and 55.1% respectively believe that refined vegetable oils, ghee and butter are good for health.
While mothers might think they have been setting a good example, the DFI study suggests the opposite: while up to 92% of the kids surveyed said they had more than two snacks a day, almost 64% of mothers indulged the same way.
“This is the first clear survey showing that the knowledge, attitude and practices of mothers influence their children's eating behaviour,” said Dr Anoop Misra, director of the DFI. “Urgent work is therefore required to raise their awareness levels.”
The children were mostly knowledgeable about hypertension, high sugar and heart disease, but high triglycerides was a grey area. In the case of mothers, the ignorance about triglycerides and cancer was 81% and 67%.
Time to act
According to Dr Seema Gulati, chief project officer at the DFI: “Many mothers consider packaged food healthy because it is hygienic, little realising that these often had sweeteners, salts, artificial flavours and preservatives.
"It's time nutritionists targeted this group more intensively to achieve good health results for India."
So what’s in store? More of the same, probably, with over 70% of children unwilling to cut down on their junk food consumption and almost half happy not to take any exercise. Moreover, 66% of children said they were affected by advertising.
On the whole, kids from higher-income, highly educated households were most likely to be obese—quite the opposite of the norm in the West. Those in private schools were the most overweight or obese
But all was not bleak. Of the 300 students attending government-funded schools, only 7.9% of boys and 10% girls were overweight/obese. In contrast, of the remaining 1,500 in private schools, 22.2% of boys and 19.2% of girls were overweight/obese.