After Pandemic, Kashmiri Kids Grappling With ‘Silent Epidemic’

“In Kashmir, one in every three children is obese. It’s a silent epidemic. Gen Z is a burger generation. All they eat is junk, be it outside or at home.”

By Al-Misda Masoom

TALHA, 9, started to gain weight during the pandemic owing to sudden exposure to a sedentary lifestyle.

He would wake up and follow a passive schedule. His routine included eating, attending online classes, watching television and playing games on his phone.

Even though his physical appearance was changing every day and was evident to everyone that he was becoming overweight, his parents were in denial.

Whenever someone would point out that he has more weight for his age, his family would get offended and would think they’re casting an evil eye on their baby.

Even though pandemic has passed, they’re yet to realise the problem that’s in front of them and the future implications of it.

“We stopped telling his parents anything now,” expressed one of his cousins. “They just don’t listen. We do care but they think we’re overthinking. I just hope they do realise it soon before it starts to affect his daily life.”

Haunting the whole world since the virulent spring of 2020, the pandemic has slowed down and scarred countless lives. Not just scars are left behind but now another epidemic is waiting to engulf the people around the world.

The sluggish lifestyle gifted by Covid has resulted in plump individuals in general and children in particular.

According to research done by Narayan Health Hospitals, childhood obesity is now an epidemic in India.

With 14.4 million obese children, India has the second-highest number of obese children in the world, next to China. The prevalence of obesity in children is 15%.

“In Kashmir, one in every three children is obese,” Dr. Yasir Wani, Head of Pediatrics, District Hospital Pulwama, told Kashmir Observer.

“It’s a silent epidemic. Gen Z is a burger generation. All they eat is junk, be it outside or at home.”

The notion is that junk is only the fast food or the packed food provided outside the comfort of home, but actually, junk is all the unbalanced diet that the kids are provided with, Dr. Wani warned. “And junk can be made at home also, like parents here feel that rice is all kids needs and maggie is quite prevalent and liked not only by kids but parents are also fine with it.”

The statistics show a drastic increase in childhood obesity cases in the valley. But despite being a matter of grave concern, most parents turn a blind eye to the problem.

Adif, another victim of this silent epidemic, is a second-grade student whose parents are in denial. His physical appearance is enough to justify that he’s unfit at a very young age.

The changes in his body started to be noticeable from the past year. He has started to consume a lot of junk, decreased his physical activities, and increased his screen time.

“Last year, he was in fine shape, but now he has changed a lot,” Sana, one of his relatives, said. “I talked to his mother as I was very concerned about his health, but she’s not ready to accept the reality. She loves to see her baby getting fluffy.”

Shagufta, a dietician at Srinagar’s GB Pant Hospital, told Kashmir Observer that healthy is not a synonym with more weight, in fact in most cases it is the opposite of it.

“People here have a liking for a chubby kid,” she said. “Parents need to understand that if there’s a significant changes in their child’s body mass, there’s no harm in getting him checked. There’re a lot of implications of obesity even in adulthood.

Parents seek medical attention after the child has other complaints like thyroid or diabetes, which should not happen at such a young age. Moreover, parents have started to introduce their children to technology at a very young age, be it for pacifying the babies by giving them mobile phones or during their feeding times. With the increased screen time children have decreased their physical activities leading to obesity.”

Shayan, 13, has been diagnosed with cholesterol and is at risk of obesity. His parents first thought that he’s becoming healthy till he developed breathing issues and was not able to perform his daily activities normally. Now he has started his treatment and is doing follow-ups religiously.

“I’m glad that I realised how severe it could be,” said Shayan’s mother. “I know we started the treatment very late but you know it is better late than sorry.”

Dietician Shugufta also mentioned that most of the patients don’t follow the prescribed diet and won’t come for routine check-ups.

Another such case of delayed treatment is Zofiq, a class tenth student.

He was in sixth grade when his weight started to increase due to the large consumption of junk food. As a result of his weight, his appetite increased, and in turn, his weight continued to grow.

“We all tried to warn his parents but they were happy that he has started to eat,” said Zofiq’s uncle.

His condition deteriorated to a point where doctors said that if he continued to take the same kind and amount of food, he’s at risk of having a stroke. After that, his parents realised the gravity of the situation and stopped his junk intake.

“It took us one year to control his diet,” said Sanam, Zofiq’s sister. “He used to cry for junk food but as much as it broke our hearts to see him like that we knew it was necessary.”

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