For the first time ever, there’s a possibility that children may have a shorter lifespan than their parents. This is because being overweight or obese as a child, increases your likelihood of developing serious health problems later in life. The list of complications is a long one and includes type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. And then there’s the emotional issues that may arise from being overweight, such as being teased or bullied, and increasing the risk of your child developing depression.
Bianca Parau, Senior Paediatric Dietitian at Bupa Cromwell Hospital, offers the following advice: “If your child is gaining weight, encourage them to eat a healthy diet and exercise. This is the foundation for maintaining a healthy weight. Weight loss shouldn’t be the goal – your child will grow into their weight if they follow a balanced diet alongside regular physical activity.
“As a parent, be a positive role model and aim to make meal times happy and relaxed. If you eat a healthy diet and exercise, your child will follow the same patterns as they grow up. Teach your child to enjoy a variety of foods and encourage them to try new flavours and textures.”
Bianca also warns against putting your child on a fad diet: “Fad diets set you up to fail – no one can follow a fad diet for life and as soon as your child stops the diet, they will gain weight again. These types of diets also lack vital nutrients that your child needs to keep their body working at its best. Never put your child on a diet or restrict their calorie and nutrient intake before speaking to your doctor or a dietitian.”
1. Make changes as a whole family
Don’t single your child out or make an issue about their weight. Instead, make lifestyle changes for everyone in your family.
2. Keep portions in proportion
Remember, your child won’t need to eat as much as you. Offer your child appropriate-sized portions at meal times.
3. Establish good eating habits
Your child should eat regular meals, including breakfast, without any distractions, such as television.
4. It’s the little things that count
Small changes, like swapping an unhealthy snack for a piece of fruit or vegetables, can make a big difference to your child’s diet.
5. Clear out the cupboards
Don’t have high calorie snacks and sugary drinks in your house, and discourage continuous grazing throughout the day.
6. Eat in or take away
Limit the amount of take-away and fast food meals you have. Prepare and eat most of your meals at home and let your child wash the salad or chop the veg so that they feel involved.
7. Variety is the key
Offer your child a variety of foods to ensure that their nutritional requirements are met.
8. Strike the right balance
Always have a mixture of starchy foods (which includes bread, pasta, rice and potatoes), proteins (beans, meat, chicken, fish and eggs) and vegetables for your child’s lunch and evening meal Aim for one third to one half of your child’s plate to be vegetables or salad.
9. Make exercise a habit
Make enjoyable activities, such as walking, cycling and gardening, part of your child’s everyday life. And encourage active play such as dancing.
10. Be the boss
It’s up to you, as a parent, to set the standards for meals, snacks and exercise. Encourage your child but never feel guilty about what your child has eaten – make a choice, enjoy your food and move on.
- Childhood overweight and obesity. World Health Organization. www.who.int, accessed 19 February 2014
- State of the nation’s waistline – obesity in the UK: analysis and expectations. National Obesity Forum. www.nationalobesityforum.org.uk, published January 2014
- What are the complications of childhood obesity? Childhood Obesity Foundation. www.childhoodobesityfoundation.ca, accessed 19 February 2014
- Obesity: guidance on the prevention, identification, assessment and management of overweight and obesity in adults and children. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). December 2006. www.nice.org.uk
- What every family can do: the 5-2-1-0 rule. Childhood Obesity Forum. www.childhoodobesityfoundation.ca, accessed 19 February 2014
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Reviewed by Dylan Merkett, Bupa Health Information Team, February 2014.
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