DHAKA, Bangladesh – Obesity and overweight are alarmingly on the rise in Bangladesh, particularly among children and adolescents, owing to the rapid spread of fast-food culture and changing lifestyles, experts and guardians viewed on the eve of World Obesity Day observed globally on Friday.

According to a joint study published in 2014 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), obesity affects 1.4 percent of children under the age of five in Bangladesh.

Besides, 17.9 percent of children in the South Asian delta nation of nearly 170 million people are obese, while the same problem among adolescents is 23.6 percent.

As per the country's law, citizens aged 18 years and below are considered children, whereas youths aged 10 to 19 are considered adolescents.

Dr Khurshid Jahan, professor at the prestigious Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, told Anadolu Agency that the number of bulky children in the country has been significantly increasing in recent years.

"Nowadays, children and adolescents suffering from obesity are visible everywhere, including schools, shopping malls, hospitals, and other places," Dr Jahan remarked, adding that dietary habits, particularly in urban areas, have changed dramatically.

She believes that, as a result of urbanization and other socioeconomic factors, most parents are overburdened with professional responsibilities and have little time to prepare food at home for their children.

"The simplest approach is to purchase prepacked fast food or buy frozen fast food products to easily cook at home to save time," she added.

"Children, as well as people of all ages, have so been adapted to the western lifestyle of consuming fast food at random in Bangladesh," she noted.

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) research published in June 2021, worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.

“In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-9 were overweight or obese in 2016,” the report said, adding that 39 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese in 2020.

Risk factors of obesity

Dr. Jahan has warned that rising obesity among Bangladeshi children and youths is putting them at risk for a number of ailments, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

"There has also been a very concerning situation among many children in recent times. They have knee and groin pain, which is primarily caused by obesity. We have never seen such a problem in our lives," she said, underlining that children spend most of their free time playing mobile games and have no opportunity to engage in physical activities in open playgrounds.

"Children and adolescents eat excessive amounts of food, and the calories they consume mostly go unburned due to a lack of physical activity," she said, urging the government to implement a mega plan to restructure all major cities, particularly Dhaka, to provide opportunities for children, adolescents, and youths to play in open playgrounds in naturalistic environments.

Many children are becoming mentally unwell as a result of their obesity and bulky body shape, she said, explaining that "most of them don't like friends, and they're even bored when relatives visit."

No sign of progress

Shahida Arabi Irin, a lawyer by profession and a resident of Dhaka's upscale Segunbagicha neighborhood, observed that not only the children and adolescents but also the majority of the women are addicted to the fast-food culture.

"I don't think there is a quick fix for this situation. I believe it will worsen day by day as people become busier in order to manage their modern and urban lifestyles. Most working women feel at ease buying fast food for their children and themselves," she said.

She commented on the general environment of megacity Dhaka, saying that tens of thousands of people, particularly mothers, frequent the city's shopping malls or super shops for shopping and entertainment because there are few parks to visit.

"Fast food provided in well-decorated restaurant outlets in those shopping malls attracts them. So, I, like my school-age son, have become addicted to fast food, particularly burgers and pizza, and we are both now obese," Irin added.

Amir Faisal Mohammad Zakaria, the head of IT at a renowned Islamic life insurance firm in the city, told Anadolu Agency that the government should take a major initiative to curb fast-food culture and raise public awareness.

“The majority of the children dislike vegetables and other homemade hygienic foods. They eat a lot of chicken meat and other fast food," Zakaria observed, adding that obesity is causing millions of children in the country to lose physical fitness, which could have harmful consequences.

In other regions of the country, she warned that the fast-food culture is rapidly spreading, even in remote regions.

She suggested that all parents monitor their children's eating habits and encourage the development of healthy eating habits. (Anadolu)