Obese children lack essential nutrients: AIIMS study

The study found that teenagers are consuming more refined and processed foods, popularly called fast food, than healthy fruit and vegetables


23% of the 134 adolescents in the age group of 10-16 years enrolled for the study skipped breakfast every morning. Photo: iStock
23% of the 134 adolescents in the age group of 10-16 years enrolled for the study skipped breakfast every morning. Photo: iStock

New Delhi: Despite high intake of food, obese adolescents suffer from lack of essential nutrients, according to a study by researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The study found that teenagers are consuming more refined and processed foods, popularly called fast food, than healthy fruit and vegetables.

The department of paediatrics at AIIMS enrolled 134 adolescents in the age group 10-16 years for the study. It found that they lacked the recommended amount of nutrients like iron, zinc, fibre and vitamin D needed for a healthy body. This hidden hunger forms a vicious circle in which the body needs more food but does not get the required amount of nutrients.

The study showed that while requirement of fibre is approximately 25 grams per day, subjects’ intake was in the range of a mere 5.6 to 9.4 grams. Similarly, while vitamin D requirement is 600 international units (IU), the adolescents only got 0.15 to 0.3 IU.

“While the adolescents lacked in many nutrients, shortage of fibre and vitamin D was very stark,” said Babita Upadhyay, dietician at AIIMS and a researcher who worked on the study.

According to a 2010 report by the Indian Council of Medical Research, Indian adolescents need at least 21 milligrams (mg) of iron per day. The study found it to be in the range of 6.5 to 16.3 mg. Presence of zinc was 0.7 to 2.8 mg as against the needed 9-12 mg.

“If the overweight adolescents have deficiency of important nutrients, then it shows that they are not eating nutritious food. It is a scary scenario,” said Vandana Jain, a member of the faculty and lead researcher on the AIIMS study.

Further results confirmed her fears. It was found that average intake of fruit and leafy vegetables was only 50 grams and 150 grams, respectively. As against this, 29% subjects eat fast food or fried food every day. Also, 23% of them skip breakfast every morning, especially girls.

“Having breakfast is essential to maintain the body’s metabolism. Such low consumption of fruit and vegetables leaves bodies without proper nutrition,” said Jain. She added that this causes hunger which is not satiated through the kind of food that these adolescents consume.

“Apart from leading to many diseases, vitamin D deficiency creates insulin resistance. Insulin regulates hunger. Resistance to this hormone makes one feel hungry sooner than needed. Thus, the person ends up eating more,” said Jain.

However, as the food these adolescents eat lacks nutrients, the hidden hunger is not addressed.