When your child is misbehaving, you are in a rush or you just want a little peace and quiet, an easy solution is to bribe your child with an unhealthy treat. A biscuit here and there, a pizza for tea and an occasional fizzy drink may not seem like it could damage your child’s health; but with a growing rate of obesity in children it is essential that you encourage your child to lead a healthy, active lifestyle.
Currently it is thought that around 25 percent of boys and 33 percent of girls aged between two and nineteen are over-weight or obese, with figures rising every year, this problem needs to be addressed now.
Dr. Tom Warshawski, Chair of The Childhood Obesity Foundation attributes the rise in obesity to problems with diet, he says:
“The primary problem is an increased calorie intake by susceptible individuals.
Since the mid 1970s there has been an explosion in the availability of cheap, tasty, calorific dense foods. Portions have gotten bigger and cheaper and the population has gotten rounder and heavier.”
If your child is overweight, now is the time to implement a change to their diet and to encourage more physical activity. If your child is not overweight, adopting a healthy lifestyle will reduce their risk of becoming overweight by adulthood.
As a parent, you want what is best for your child; you want them to be happy but more importantly you want them to be healthy. Being overweight puts your child at risk of a whole range of health problems, including developing diabetes and having high blood pressure and cholesterol, which could increase your child’s risk of heart disease in later life.
Children’s self esteem can also be effected by being overweight, they can find it hard to exercise and to be active because they are unfit, which in turn can leave them feeling embarrassed. Many children are also bullied or teased about their weight by their peers or by members of their family, this can negatively affect their body image, self esteem and mood.
It can be difficult to tell if you should be concerned about your child’s weight. Weighing your child regularly will help you to keep an eye on how they are developing, so if they need to lose weight you can help them do so healthily.
Health professionals often measure body mass index (BMI) to establish whether someone is the correct weight for their height and age. You can calculate your child’s BMI by using the specialist calculator on www.nhs.uk , alternatively you can ask your school nurse or GP to assist you.
Talking to your child about weight is often a difficult subject, as Rebecca Lewis, 30, from Manchester found when approaching the matter with her eleven year old son, Ethan. She says “I was scared to bring up the topic with Ethan as I know that he gets picked on at school for his weight, I did’t want to upset him or make food and eating a big deal.”
Dr Warshawski explains that the easiest way to start a conversation with your child about their weight is to approach the topic when a suitable opportunity arises. This could include when they are telling you about how they’re being teased about their weight at school, when you are clothes shopping and you have to buy bigger sizes for your child, or when other family members or friends comment about their weight.
In these situations you could ask your child whether such situations bother them and ask whether they would like you to help them do something about it. Dr Warshawski says: “It is really important to talk to your child about their weight and to offer to help them lose it, because most children do not lose weight without adult support.”
If a child or youth is overweight all sugary drinks should be discontinued and water, skimmed milk or diet drinks substituted. Fruits and vegetables must be
increased and made readily available at all times and portion sizes should be decreased to food guide levels. The occasional treat such as sweets, crisps and chips can be maintained as weekend treats or rewards after lengthy exercise. Keeping the calorie balance in mind, don’t eat more junk food calories than were burned off in exercise.
It is important to lead by example and build your home for success, don’t have junk food and junk drink (sugary drinks are the worst promoter of obesity) in the home and provide plenty of opportunity for physical exercise.
Your child may be reluctant to change their eating habits to begin with, but it is important to perceiver to ensure that they develop into healthy adults. Children often need between twenty to thirty tries of a particular food to decide whether or not they like it. Therefore it is essential to present your child with foods that they claim they dislike on more than one occasion.
Often overweight children can be reluctant to exercise and prefer to do sedentary activities such as playing on the computer or watching T.V, this is a problem that Emma Sheppard, 28, from Doncaster has with her seven year old daughter, Charlene. Emma says: “My daughter doesn’t like exercising because she feels that everyone is looking at her, I don’t want to force her into doing anything that she doesn’t want to do.”
To combat problems likes this, Dr Warshawski stresses that fun activities are the key to getting your child to be active. He says :“Walking, strolling, swimming, getting to school early and playing are all ways to encourage physical activity. It is also crucial to limit screen time (tv, computer, texting etc) to a maximum of 2 hours per day as children are naturally active creatures and will remain so if not tethered to an electronic screen.”
It takes only a few simple changes to get your children to eat healthily and exercise regularly. Make the changes together and your whole family can benefit and will soon be happy, fit and healthy.
If you need extra advice and support on managing your child’s weight, visit your GP who can refer you to a dietician or paediatrician who specialise in this area.