Childhood obesity: Researchers evaluate body fat cut-off for children

Oct 11,2018

Indians are very likely to have a higher fat content in their body when compared to other individuals with a similar weight from Western countries, say doctors. In other words, being ‘overweight’ in India is likely to be as bad as being ‘obese’ elsewhere in the world.

Such a ‘body fat cut-off’ was not available so far. Now, researchers from the Division of Nutrition in the city-based St John’s Research Institute have developed body fat cut-off for children at different ages from six to 15 years.

The team of researchers led by Rebecca Kuriyan Raj, Head of Clinical Nutrition Unit in the institute, conducted a ‘Pediatric Epidemiology and Child Health Study’ (PEACH) study where they accurately measured body fat content in 9,700 children in the six to 15 age group. The children were drawn from various schools in the city and were evaluated for a period of five years from 2011. Using these measurements, percentile curves and cut-off have been generated. These curves and cut-off graphs were published in international journal, Obesity, on October 2.

Prof Rebecca Kuriyan Raj told The Hindu that this information can help medical and public health professionals identify children with excessive body fat and plan interventions to prevent pediatric overweight/obesity, thereby reducing the risk of health problems in later life. “It is known that the most risky fat is that which is present in the abdomen, giving the ‘paunch’ or bulging tummy. This is easier to measure as it is really the waist size, and can be measured with a tape. We have also generated percentile curves for diagnosing an excessive tummy in the PEACH study and these were published in Indian Pediatrics Journal in 2011,” she said.

Is this hereditary? It is likely, both from a genetic and a clustering of lifestyle perspective in the same family. Another finding from the PEACH study, which has been published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July, is that a younger child’s waist circumference is very strongly associated with the older sibling’s waist circumference, especially when the siblings were of the same gender. “This is more marked in boys. These findings can play a role in clinical practice, while planning strategies to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity. Older siblings often tend to be role models and have the ability to influence the attitudes and behaviour of younger siblings. Thus planning interventions, involving a sibling component in the treatment along with diet, physical activity and behavioural modifications may result in effective strategies in the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity,” she explained.

Childhood obesity: Researchers evaluate body fat cut-off for children