The Dangers of Childhood Obesity
How Parents Can Help
Parents have the most important role to play in encouraging their child to eat sensibly. Parents need to help their child achieve a healthy weight. Good eating habits established in childhood will see your child grow with a healthy body and a healthy body image that will stand him/her in good stead for the whole of his life.
Nutritious eating practices, regular physical activity and positive attitudes towards good nutrition all play a part in helping prevent your child from becoming obese.
Childhood obesity can lead to serious complications and health problems. Childhood obesity has resulted in younger and younger children being diagnosed with psychosocial problems, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, high cholesterol and sleep apnoea. Psychological problems are the most common consequences of obesity in children and teenagers. Poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression, loneliness and negative self-image often beset the overweight young person.
Obesity occurs when energy intake is greater than energy expenditure. All this means is that more calories are being consumed than the body needs for its daily requirements. Whatever is not needed to sustain the body will be converted into fat.
Here are some tips that may help you in your quest to provide your child with healthy eating habits for a lifetime.
Base food choices on healthy nutritional guidelines. Children need daily servings of:
- Bread and cereals
- Fruits and vegetables
- Milk and milk products
- Meat or meat alternatives.
There are numerous publications which will give you recommended amounts of the various foodstuffs for each age level. Five daily servings of vegetables and two of fruit is one maxim which has been widely advertised in Australia for a number of years.
Limit foods that are high in calories, fat or sugar but low in essential nutrients. Encourage the consumption of foods which are lower in calories and/or fat. It is important to learn to read labels. Some breakfast cereals have such healthy sounding names that it can come as a shock to realise they have perhaps three times as much sugar as other types.
Ensure your child has three meals a day, together with a few healthy snacks and the occasional treat. It is important that children don't skip meals, especially breakfast. 'Grazing' all day is not recommended as this generally means the child is consuming too much of the wrong sort of food. A good breakfast will ensure your child is able to concentrate properly when he first gets to school.
Try to provide healthy meals and snacks. Gradually replace high calorie, low nutrient foods with more healthy alternatives. There are dozens of snack packs of nuts or dried fruits which can be purchased. While these are okay, they more than likely have a very high sugar content. Purchase some small plastic containers, some bulk nuts or fruits and make your own 'packs' to send to school for consumption during recess.
Meals and snacks should be based around vegetables, fruits, grains, low-sugar cereals and low-fat dairy foods.
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Educate your child to recognise that sweets and high-fat foods are not for everyday consumption.
Keep non-healthy foods and drinks where they are not easily seen therefore reducing the chances of a child continually wanting/consuming sweets and chocolate. Stop buying sweets or keep them as an occasional treat. Keep them in a cupboard, perhaps above eye level where children will not be continually cued to feel desperate for a lolly.
Fruit juices, sodas, cordials, soft drinks contain large amounts of sugar. Replace these drinks with milk drinks, 100% juice or water. Learn to read the labels and to understand them. Educate your child so that they become aware of how much sugar they are consuming in a small can of drink. Don't buy so much of the highly sweetened drinks until everyone adjusts then don't buy any at all. The whole family will benefit from your actions.
Try not to label foods as 'good' or 'bad'. All foods are acceptable in moderation.
Eat as a family at the table whenever possible and try to make the occasion a pleasant one.
Make children's servings small and let them come back for more if they want it. Children can be put off by a plateful of food, particularly if they're not sure whether they like it or not.
By not forcing them to finish what is on their plates, they will learn to recognise when they feel full.
Encourage your children to help with shopping, planning meals, reading labels and helping with cooking. Teach them about nutrition and healthy options. Even better if you can grow a few vegetables or keep a few chickens and encourage participation of the child in attending to these.
Don't use food as a reward or withdraw/limit food as punishment.
Limit the amount of fast food consumed and, when eating out, make nutritious choices.
As mentioned previously, a child will gain weight when the energy intake exceeds the energy expended. To encourage regular exercise and physical activity, try the following tips.
Be active as a family. Go for walks as a family, walk the dog together, go bike-riding or play cricket on the beach.
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Support your child's participation in play and sport activities.
Set limits on the time spent watching TV, playing on computers or playing video games. Don't allow children to eat while pursuing these activities.
Provide safe areas where children feel comfortable playing or running around.
Try to lessen the use of cars and buses if the distance to be travelled is short enough to walk.
The most important point is to be a good role model to your child. If your child sees you eating well, exercising or being active regularly and making healthy choices, they will be much more inclined to follow your lead than if you insist on 'one rule for them, another for yourself'.
Focus on the positive aspects of your child's health. Avoid showing too much concern about your child's weight or body shape.
Look to establish good eating habits and a love of physical activity of some sort.
Be supportive of your child if they don't feel good about their weight or body shape.
Involve the whole family and work together to slowly change less desirable habits into more healthy alternatives. In the end, the whole family will benefit from healthy eating choices.