Virginia Beach student, 14, has idea to fight obesity in India, wins trip to try it out

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Sai Senthilkumar. (Courtesy photo)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Sai Senthilkumar vacationed in his homeland of India two summers ago. He saw starving, malnourished children who were jarringly juxtaposed nearby in the city with their obese peers.

Now he’s 14 — older, wiser — and doing something about the food problem he describes as a “ticking time bomb.”

Senthilkumar, who is wrapping up his eighth-grade year at Kemps Landing Magnet School, came up with an idea to educate Indians about obesity that he thinks would free up government resources for the malnourished and improve the country’s workforce.

He described the plan in a minute-long video he submitted to AFS’ “Project: Change,” a nationwide contest that grants a volunteer trip to one world-changing idea from a student each year.

Senthilkumar had more than 800 competitors, some of them 18-years-old, according to a media release.

He beat them all, winning the chance to put his plan into motion on a two-week trip.

Driving his idea were those dual visions from his last visit to India of malnourished and overweight children. Senthilkumar saw more in those images than health problems. He saw obesity diverting resources from other public needs, like feeding the hungry, and taxing the economy.

“I see obesity all over the news,” he said. “I see it as a growing problem. I see it affecting future generations and I see it affecting the workforce.”

He named his entry to the competition “Childhood Obesity in India: A Ticking Time Bomb.”

He had to try to defuse it, he said.

To do so, he borrowed strategies from his adopted country — specifically Michele Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative.

During his two weeks in India, Senthilkumar will use Facebook and Whatsapp — two of the most popular communication mediums in that country, he said — to share the causes and consequences of obesity with peers there. And he’ll recruit the help of local teachers, who he said are highly regarded in Indian culture, to raise awareness.

“I can’t change the world in two week,” he said.

But if he keeps spreading the word and the people who hear it join him, “then I can have a real impact,” he said.

Senthilkumar leaves for India Aug. 1.

Have a story idea or news tip? Contact City Hall reporter Judah Taylor at Judah@SouthsideDaily.com or 757-490-2750.

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