Overweight children are often overweight adults. Here are some tips and advice on how to start your kids off on the right path towards healthy eating and a normal body weight.
Increasing rates of obesity among children and adults is now a major worldwide health issue. Over the past two decades, the prevalence of obesity in developed countries has increased to epidemic proportions. New Zealand is now the third most obese country per population, in the developed world, sitting closely behind United States and Mexico, and our obesity epidemic is predicted to increase even further over the next 5 years. Health experts such as nucific dr amy lee specialise in dieting and the obesity crisis that is occurring, to work towards a healthier public. For adults, there are products available to help tackle the epidemic such as supplements and diet-assisting products. Children however need to be educated on the importance of eating a balanced diet and staying active.
Figures from a 2013 NZ health survey found that a third of our children are now overweight or obese, and that children living in the most deprived areas were three times more likely to be obese than children living in the most affluent areas.
Childhood obesity is a serious health concern due to the social problems and health problems it creates. It is estimated that obese adolescents have an 80% chance of being obese as adults and they also have a greater risk of developing the following long-term health conditions:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep apnoea
- Heart disease
- Reproductive abnormalities
- Osteoarthritis and joint pain
- Musculoskeletal pain
Obese children are more likely to be bullied and as they progress into adolescence are more likely to suffer from the following psychological problems:
- Low self esteem
- Body dissatisfaction/body image problems
- Mental health disorders
The most common factors that have contributed to New Zealand children becoming overweight or obese include:
Poor food choices: an increase in consumption of processed foods which are typically higher in fat, refined sugar and/or calories.
An ?obesogenic environment’: the extensive promotion and marketing of fast foods, sugary drinks and cheap energy-dense foods which usually have poor nutritional value.
A decrease in physical activity: New Zealand children are becoming increasingly inactive and there is a growing preference towards sedentary pursuits.
Increased time spent sitting: children who spend more than 2 hours a day watching TV or using electronic devices have higher body weights on average than children who spend 1 hour or less watching TV.
Overweight parents: at least 50% of the adult population are now overweight or obese, and a family’s eating habits have a major influence on a child’s body weight. Overweight parents may show less concern about an overweight child than parents who have a healthy body weight.
Maintaining a healthy body weight is an important part of a child’s wellbeing and requires parents to be proactive about helping their child to develop healthy lifestyle and food choices.
- The use of food as a reward, treat or distraction (this can lead to comfort eating when older). Try and choose an activity (such as the movies, a trip to the beach, a craft, etc) instead.
- Continuous mindless grazing on food. Provide three balanced meals a day and stick to set snack times.
- Sugary drinks and fruit juice: these are low in fibre, loaded with calories and a major cause of tooth decay. Remember, water and milk are best.
- A focus on body weight: this can erode your child’s self esteem. Focus instead on increasing physical activity and promoting healthy food choices.
- Dieting: dieting is based on deprivation and restriction and has poor long-term results. Provide a wide variety of nutritious food and educate your children on which foods promote good health.
- A diet high in fast food or processed foods: these are typically high in salt, sugar and fat. Replace with whole foods from nature wherever possible.
- Long periods of sitting: aim for no more than 1 hour of TV per day. Actively monitor the time spent on electronic devices and set firm boundaries.
- Active movement: national guidelines state children should be active for at least 60 minutes a day (3 x 20 mins accumulates to give the same health benefits).
- 5+ a day of fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables are high in fibre and contain important vitamins and minerals essential for growth and a healthy immune system.
- Regular meals together as a family around a table. Associate food with positive social interactions.
- Slow eating, chewing food thoroughly and being mindful of portion sizes.
- Children to try new foods and to be actively involved in food preparation and selecting healthy foods while shopping.
- To set a positive example for your children ? if you are not physically active or selecting healthy food choices, don’t expect your child to.
- It is the foods we eat regularly or everyday that have the biggest impact on body weight (not the foods we eat occasionally).
- A substantial breakfast helps set your child up for the day and is an important factor in maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Half of your child’s dinner plate should be vegetables.
- Try and do the majority of your shopping from the outer aisles of the supermarket (the inner aisles contain a higher proportion of processed foods). When placing a food item in your trolley ask yourself, “Will this item nourish my child?” .
- Cutting out sugary drinks is one of the easiest changes you can make to improve your child’s health.
Ensuring that all members of your family are a healthy weight is one of the best long-term investments you can make. A healthy body weight throughout childhood promotes physical and mental wellbeing and increases a child’s chance of being healthy throughout adulthood.
A child’s energy requirements can vary enormously during their childhood depending on their age and stage of development, individual metabolic rate, muscle mass and their physical output. It’s important not to push your child past their physical boundaries when trying to keep them active otherwise they may experience joint pain or injuries that may lead them to become more sedentary while it heals. Something like an Athletic Elbow Compression Sleeve for Elbow Pain Relief could help in this matter. Though letting your child keep a steady pace and not forcing them to overexert themselves should be the priority.
If you have any concerns about your child’s weight, seek professional advice from your GP, Well Child Provider or a registered dietitian.
healthy food swaps
- White bread Wholegrain bread
- Fruit juice A piece of raw fruit
- Chips Popcorn
- Biscuit Hard-boiled egg
- Crackers and dip Hummus and vege sticks
Sarah Sidely is a mother to four young children and is a health professional with a passion for writing and health promotion