While technology has undeniably enriched our lives, the health of our children is at risk more than ever before. Most children are exposed to excessive screen time and a sedentary lifestyle, with the virtual world taking over our lives in more ways than one.
Interactions with friends and cousins are more about chatting on social media than being facilitated via physical activities, especially after the pandemic changed habits of going out regularly.
Ten-year-old Aanya Jain from Pune began wearing spectacles in May 2023. Her mother Chandni blames it on the sudden spike in screen time during the pandemic due to online classes and activities. “She used to spend approximately 5 hours daily as screen time, engaged in activities such as playing games, watching cartoons films, and attending online classes. Although she is not too much into computer games, she watches music videos, does art and crafts, and relies on YouTube and Google for that. Despite her efforts to reduce screen time, challenges persist due to the need for online references in academics and even creative endeavours,” says Chandni.
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to various health issues among children. Says Dr Sujit Chatterjee, CEO of Hiranandani Hospital in Powai, Mumbai, “Reduced physical activity caused by excessive screen time can lead to obesity in children. Prolonged screen use can strain the eyes, causing dryness and blurry vision. Poor sitting posture while using screens can cause neck and back pain, and in extreme cases, even issues related to arthritis. It can also interfere with sleep habits. Anxiety, sadness, and ADHD risk factors increase.”
Besides, the mushrooming of food apps and easy availability of junk food has led to children developing unhealthy eating habits. “Inactive adolescents spending more time in front of screens and with poor eating habits are at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This is no doubt a worrying issue now. Insufficient social engagement and physical play can impair normal brain development in children as well,” adds Dr Chatterjee.
Medical professionals advise a drastic change in lifestyle to cope up with the challenge, but there’s a cost attached to everything.
The most common way to fight this vulnerability is to work on the daily activities of children and introduce them to experiences that excite them. For instance, regular outdoor activities like hiking or enrolling them in sports clubs can mitigate the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle. “Parents should give precedence to sports, dance, and walking in terms of time and cost, and also set an example by managing their own weight and health,” says Avinash Luthria, founder, Fiduciaries, which is an hourly-fee Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) registered investment advisory firm.
Maintaining strong family bonds by attending family gatherings can also help children from seeking comfort in the digital world.
Another aspect parents should be mindful of is in choosing residential areas that have open spaces and parks nearby.
If you’re living in a metro area, also pay attention to the water and air quality, as well as the amount of green spaces in the area. These factors can have manifold impact on your children’s health and well-being in the growing age.
Also, monitor how children spend their pocket money; discourage them from spending on junk food. This will also help your child understand the value of money. Says Luthria, “It is appropriate to give a moderate amount of pocket money to most children. While children may spend it on junk food, it is likely to help the child learn that they should save, which will help them when they are adults. This is important because most adults in India are saving significantly less than they should be. Parents should lead by example.”
Know The Costs
All this, however, has a cost attached. For instance, joining a regular activity may entail a monthly or annual fee, and taking a house with open areas may force you to shell out more.
Moreover, diseases can creep up up announced and given regular compulsions, some things are unavoidable. For instance, though the doctor has told Aanya to spend only up to 20 minutes on the screen, she ends up spending about 2 hours per day because of different online activities she pursues.
The other aspect to take care of is the amount you will need to budget to cope with health issues. For instance, for Aanya, the initial cost for spectacles, including frames and lenses, was `10,000. On top of that, the doctor has advised for check-ups every six months, which entails a cost too.
Dev Ashish, a Sebi RIA and founder of StableInvestor, encourages parents to establish healthy behaviour like outdoor activities during childhood.
“It is easier to develop these habits in children early on than trying to rectify past unhealthy behaviours in adulthood. So, if this requires parents to spend regularly on child’s outdoor activities and extracurriculars, then it is worth it. From a long-term perspective, the benefits are enormous,” he says.
What Should You Do?
Buying health insurance at an early age has several benefits. One of the easiest ways to provide them coverage is to include them in the family floater health plan.
Anand Pejawar, whole-time director, SBI General Insurance, says that including children in an existing family floater health policy simplifies streamlined administration and potential premium discounts. “Insure your children early to avoid waiting period for claims. Covering them in a family policy for eight years helps them finish the moratorium period, thus preventing claim rejections when they move to an adult policy,” he says.
However, it’s essential to recognise that in family floater policies, the sum insured is shared among all members, which may not suffice for specific healthcare needs. “Therefore, if your child requires specialised healthcare, consider an individual health insurance plan. In a standalone policy for children, the premium is typically based on the child’s age and specific health factors,” he adds.
A comprehensive health cover for children mostly includes coverage for paediatric services, maternity and newborn care, and support for behavioural and mental health needs, etc.
Says Ashish Yadav, head of products, ManipalCigna Health Insurance: “With a separate plan for a child, claims do not jeopardise the coverage of other family members, granting you peace of mind. This flexibility extends to enhancing coverage without affecting others, which is especially valuable if individual health concerns exist.”
The choice between family floater and individual health insurance starts with understanding your unique requirements.
Apart from health insurance, it is important to budget for a health fund for regular check-ups and for aspects that the policy does not cover. Aanya is covered under the family floater health policy, but it does not cover the doctor’s consultation fee and the cost of spectacles. Only cataract or any other eye surgery treatment is, typically, covered under eyecare.
Therefore, it’s importance to check the coverage.
Says Dr S. Dheeraj Krishnaa, head of wellness and telehealth at Star Health and Allied Insurance, “Our plans cover obesity treatment if the body mass index (BMI) exceeds specified limits. Musculoskeletal problems, mental health disorders, including anxiety, sadness, and ADHD risk factors are also covered. However, coverage does not extend to problems with cognitive development. Eye problems are covered, subject to terms and conditions, but the cost of spectacles is not included in the coverage.” Typically, arthritis in children and Type 2 Diabetes are also covered.
As a practice, schedule regular health check-ups and vaccinations for your children. Budget for these expenses and prioritise preventive healthcare to keep them safe.