Blame it on the hormones or just shrug it off as that time of life. The fact is, it’s not easy being a teenager. For most adolescents, coping with the transition from childhood to adulthood is a make or break time. These are also the most important years of their lives, a time which, if lived well, leads to a healthy adulthood.
Doctors say a number of ailments that plague the adult years have their roots in adolescence. And given today’s fast-paced lifestyle, the picture is far from reassuring. Teenagers are emerging as victims of a staggering list of ailments, ranging from hypertension, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and high cholesterol to anorexia, bulimia, asthma, poor eyesight, hearing problems, digestive disorders and emotional and stress-related problems.
As many as 20% teenagers today suffer from hypertension because of obesity and lack of exercise. Type 2 Diabetes and excessive cholesterol, say doctors, are linked directly to the consumption of junk food and aerated drinks. Without adequate roughage and proper nutrition, blocked arteries and even premature heart attacks can affect even the young.
Says Anjali Saxena, consultant paediatrician, Max Hospital, New Delhi: “There is an earlier onset of puberty in children these days. Girls are starting their menstrual cycles when they are only 10. This is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The fallout is that they are just too young to understand the implications. Many young girls have irregular cycles, excessive bleeding, cramps and emotional disturbance.”
Adds Pune-based gynaecologist, Vishwas Yevale: “Teenagers in India, as in the West, have started ageing faster because of excessive wear and tear of the body. This is a direct result of the lifestyle they follow. It is not enough to go to a gym to work out. It won’t help if you focus on building brawn or want to impress someone with it. You need to work hard on building and maintaining a healthy body.”
According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) survey, as many as 53% of the children between 10 and 14 years, from various public schools in New Delhi, eat junk food every day. This, in the absence of adequate exercise, say doctors, is the single most common reason for obesity among teenagers. In a survey she conducted on 285 obese adolescents in the Capital, Archana Arya, a paediatric endocrinologist at New Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, found that only 4% were overweight because of clinical reasons.
“The rest were simply eating all the wrong food and did not exercise enough,” she says.
“Teenagers today are desperate to have flat tummies so that they can pierce their navels or get into hip-hugging clothes. But most of them don’t realize that it is not easy to maintain a good figure if you don’t exercise regularly. And on the flip side, starving yourself to maintain the figure is the worst thing you can do to your body,” says Sushma Yevale, a gynaecologist and obstetrician from Pune.
Doctors say that it is time we wake up to the problem of anorexia among teenagers. It usually begins in young people around the onset of puberty when they become increasingly conscious of their looks. In extreme cases, this eating disorder can lead to complications such as shrunken bones, mineral loss, irregular heartbeat, disruption of normal growth and even osteoporosis.
Like anorexia, bulimia is a psychological disorder where youngsters first eat and then, out of a deep sense of guilt and worry about gaining weight, vomit out the food.
Arvind Taneja, consultant paediatrician at Max Hospital, New Delhi, says that “induced vomiting is quite common among teenagers”. Bulimia also makes teenagers take to fasting, enemas and, in extreme cases, excessive use of laxatives and diuretics or compulsive exercising.
Victims of cancer
Manoj Sharma, an oncologist with New Delhi’s Maulana Azad Medical College, has a more scary revelation. He says that an increasing number of teenagers are falling victim to cancer. “Everybody is talking about new methods of treating cancer, but nobody seems to ask why more and more teenagers are developing cancer of the soft tissues, bone, blood lymph nodes and even brain and ovaries. Because of excessive consumption of pesticide residues in food, and also due to stress, the immune system of the youngsters becomes weak, making them vulnerable to all kinds of ailments.”
The air we breathe
A recent study conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, has concluded that the Capital’s polluted air is responsible for a 41% increase in asthma cases and a 39% increase in chronic bronchitis cases.
In most of our overcrowded metros, children are at a very high risk of contracting breathing problems because of the high pollution rates.
“And when the teenagers begin smoking to imitate adults, the problem only gets worse,” says Dr Taneja. According to WHO, 10-15% of children in the 5-11 age group suffer from asthma in India.
“Teenagers today have an indestructible image of themselves. That is why they indulge in high-risk behaviour. It is important that we teach them how to deal with peer pressure and stand on their own. As most of them cannot deal with peer pressure, they start smoking and take to alcohol and drugs,” says Dr Taneja.
This is also the time many youngsters experiment with high-risk sexual behaviour, exposing themselves to diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis B and pelvic inflammatory diseases where the fallopian tubes in teenage girls get blocked.
“This can be serious as it can lead to permanent infertility,” warns Taneja. Add to this the problem of teenage pregnancies. Says Dr Sushma Yevale: “Almost every day, there are teenagers coming in for abortions. The problem is not limited to urban India. It has now spread to small towns and cities as well.”
If you thought stress is a problem only with adults, think again. Our children, too, are victims of the rat-race to excel in everything they do.
The result: insomnia, emotional imbalances and depression. Peer pressure, too, adds to the problem and doctors say depression among the youth is on the upswing.
Says Dr Taneja: “Severe depression leads to suicidal tendencies. Teenagers cannot tolerate frustration and take dramatic decisions, not understanding the consequences.”
LIVE IT UP
1) Eat well without feeling guilty
2) Exercise to burn calories
3) Say no to junk food
4) Do not eat at unclean places
5) Consume fresh food, preferably food that has roughage
6) Avoid alcohol, drugs and cigarettes
7) Sit properly while eating
8) Do not stare at the TV or computer for long
9) Do not indulge in high-risk activities or behaviour
10) Relax as often as you can. It would help to meditate
11) Have a healthy self-esteem
12) Do not allow peer pressure to get you down
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