This week marks National Childhood Obesity Week.
Given that one third of all children are already above a healthy weight (predicted to increase to two thirds in 2050), it’s important that we spread the message about the benefits of physical activity by encouraging families to spend time being active together.
The two main factors in childhood obesity are inactivity and poor food choices.
Changes in society, such as the way food is produced and the way we spend our time, have contributed to the increase over recent years.
Children are also more likely to follow their parents’ unhealthy eating patterns and, worryingly, 40-70 per cent of obese children will grow up to be obese adults.
As well as the many dangers linked to being above a healthy weight during childhood, such as an increased risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, children might also experience negative comments from their peers. Bullying at school can lead to low self esteem and a reluctance to talk about their weight issues.
Speak to your GP if you’re worried about your child’s weight. Your doctor can measure their BMI and refer them to a range of specialists, including dieticians and nutritionists who can help.
In the meantime, read on for some simple advice on how to get fitter and healthier:
· Make sure you keep healthy snacks in the house. Don’t keep an endless supply of crisps and chocolate - you’ll be surprised to see how little your children miss them.
· Include calcium rich foods like cheese, yoghurt and milk in your child’s diet. Their bones are at a crucial stage in development and calcium will help them to grow strong.
· Add at least one serving of fruit or veg to every meal and snack. Get your children involved in preparing their meals if they are unwilling to try out new foods.
· Make breakfast as healthy as possible. Swap low fibre cereal or white toast for a wholegrain options like wholemeal toast, no-added-sugar muesli, porridge or shredded wheat. Fruit juice can also contain a lot of sugar so limit it to one small cup or carton a day.
· Make sure that the portion sizes you serve are correct for everybody in your family. Your children don’t need to eat as much as you so adjust accordingly.
· Make sure your children know what foods are healthy. That way, when they are given the freedom to make their own food choices they will hopefully be steered away from eating too much junk food.
· Cut down on the amount of time your kids spend watching TV or playing computer games. Encourage them to spend more time playing outside. Suggest bike riding or kicking a ball around in the park for a fun family activity.
· Walk your children to school in the morning or to the shop when you get home from work. Walking for twenty minutes every day will give you a total of over two hours every week. Set up a chart in the kitchen and challenge your kids to beat the target. Arrange a weekly prize for the winner as an incentive.
· Suggest that your children try out one new activity or exercise every month. Street dancing, trampolining, circus skills and martial arts can be fun ways to increase time spent being active.
· Most importantly, if your child is overweight focus on their health, not their appearance. Making them feel uncomfortable about how they look could force them to lose too much weight, causing additional health problems.
For more information about leading a healthy lifestyle visit nhs.uk/change4life/
For information about National Childhood Obesity Week and the initiatives you can take part in visit mendcentral.org/ncow.