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In the last 20 years, the number of overweight and obese people in developed countries has increased so quickly that it has been described as an epidemic.  Did you know, according to statistics, more and more children in New Zealand (Australia, USA and the UK) are becoming overweight or obese. The results of the 2002 National Children’s Nutrition Survey (5-14 years of age) reported that 21% of New Zealand children were classified as overweight and 9.8% were obese. Evidence suggests that if the problem continues into a child’s teens, these children are more likely to be obese as adults.

Most experts agree that obesity is rarely caused by a medical problem. It is usually the result of several factors, predominantly a lack of exercise (or inactivity) and unhealthy eating habits (or poor relationship with food). 

Simply put, in most cases obesity or weight problems (‘being overweight’) develops when there is an imbalance between food (input) and activity (output). 

 As well as the emotional problems and low self-esteem that affect many overweight children, there are serious health implications. For example, they are more likely to suffer from breathing difficulties, type II diabetes, hypertension, stroke and heart disease later in life.

Did you know?

  • New Zealand evidence shows that approximately 11,000 deaths each year can be attributed to poor nutrition and lack of physical activity. 
  • Of these 11,000 deaths - 8,000 to 9,000 are likely to be due to dietary factors alone, and the remaining 2,000 to 3,000 due to sub-optimal physical activity levels. 
  • Seventy percent of the deaths from stroke and heart disease are caused by poor nutrition and 80% of diabetes is attributable to overweight and obesity.

 Tips to help 

Here are some of our ideas to promote a healthy family lifestyle and help your child avoid problems with being overweight and obesity.

  • Healthy Eating

Promote healthy eating in your home. Children are more likely to develop healthy eating behaviours when they are provided with a choice of healthy foods in their home environment. Involve your child in the writing of your shopping list, grow your own food, prepare/cook nutritious meals together, limit the amounts of treats you buy and have in the house. 

  • Awareness of the basics of nutrition 

As a family, be aware of the food groups and the amounts recommended for different age groups to support health and wellbeing. For more information see 'A Child's Nutritional Needs' and 'Age by Age Feeding Guidelines'.

Yum Yum Tip

See our fantastic range of educational games and activities which are a fun way to teach the entire family about nutrition and healthy eating.

Children's plates and plates are also a good option as they are smaller and help guide children's serving sizes. 

  • Treat Food 

Remember that treat food should be enjoyed only occasionally and in small amounts. A fun activity with your child is to make a food chart together (that summarises where treats fit in the world of food) and post it on the fridge.   

  • Establish healthy eating routines

Healthy eating is not only about food choices, it's also about eating nutritious foods on a regular, predictable basis.

Some ideas are:  always eat breakfast, eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day, eat meals together at the table or kitchen bench and allow time for meals to be eaten in a relaxed way.  For further ideas see the article on ‘Developing Healthy Attitudes Toward Food’.

  • Positive reinforcement

Acknowledge good behaviours; praise your child whenever healthy food choices are made. Inform and educate your child as to the benefits of healthy eating – for instance ‘eating calcium makes your bones strong so you can run fast… or meat helps your heart strong and helps to pump blood around your body’

  • Physical activity

Make it part of your families lifestyle. It is recommended that children accumulate 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per day. This DOESN’T necessary mean playing sport or doing strenuous exercise, but simply means being active. Doing the chores, spontaneous play, walking to school, taking the dog for a walk instead of watching TV, or tending to their garden are all examples of physical activity. Conversely, limit the time your child spends on low-activity or sedentary pastimes such as television watching, computer and other electronic games as these reinforce sedentary habits.

Remember, encouraging and role modelling physically active choices is a great gift you can give your children and will go a long way to prevent weight problems.

  • Inform, educate and empower your children

Make sure they understand how good food and activity helps to keep people healthy. Emphasise the health benefits rather than becoming preoccupied with weight. Keep it positive and fun for all the family by playing educational games or activities together. 

If your child is battling with their weight, try not too make it too personal as it can self esteem issues and a lack of confidence. A low key family approach is best. Support your child to make healthy choices by modelling good behaviour, involving them in shopping, preparing, cooking healthy food, making healthy lifestyle choices and encouraging activity as a family.

Should I encourage an obese child to lose weight?

Research shows that the longer a child remains obese, the more likely they will become an obese adult. Remember that children come in all shapes and sizes so your focus should be on healthy eating and exercise habits. Build self-esteem around being active.

  • In terms of diet, offer a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grain foods. Fat is an important energy source for children – but look for lower fat meats and dairy products.
  • Encourage regular physical activity, appropriate to a child's age and ability. The 'Fun to Eat Well" food reward chart is a great motivator or try something like stickers, a trip to the zoo or a cuddle instead.
More ideas to help manage if your child overeats
  • Try slowing down mealtimes - our brains take about 20 minutes after the food has hit our stomachs to register that we are full or have had enough. Offer half a normal portion of food and wait 10 minutes before you offer the second half of the meal.
  • Offer the most nutritious food(lean protein and vegetables) first followed by the carbohydrates (like pasta, bread or potatoes) once the nutritious foods are finished. Many children tend to go for the bread and pasta first which fills them up.
  • Increase the fibre – offer wholemeal or high-fibre bread over traditional white. A more fibrous breakfast cereal means the child may reduce the portion eaten. Fibre helps make us feel full faster. 
  • Hunger and thirst can be confused, so ensure your child has the opportunity to drink water regularly. Water is the best option – fruit juice and milk have calories and can affect a child's natural appetite. Make sure you have a funky drink bottle which can be taken with you will help ensure water is always available.
  • Look at your serving sizes – remember a serving will fit into the palm of the child's hand. Use smaller plates designed for children which will help to guide serving sizes.
  • Use sandwich slice NOT toast slice – a thinner slice means less energy. 
  • Limit foods high in fat or sugar – for instance if your child wants more dinner, limit the amount of meat or bread/pasta but offer them unlimited amounts of vegetables or salad (without dressing).
  • Look for low fat or wholesome options - honey, banana, tomato. Try to cut out butter
  • Provide food without added fat – for instance boiled potatoes over mashed potato.Make soups without cream; instead use water or skim milk to reduce fat/energy.
  • Go for a walk as a family after or to the park and fly a kite – this is great as its social, burns energy and gets you out of the mode of eating. It will give your child's body/brain time to feel full.
  • Put limits on TV watching – a possible relationship between childhood obesity and television watching suggests that childhood obesity was highest among those watching four or more hours a day compared with those watching one hour or less per day. Instead get outside and plant a garden together.
  • Set a good example. Parents who have a healthy diet and frequently engage in  physical activity are much more likely to encourage the same habits in their children. In other words, keep in mind the power of modelling — that is, your child learns mostly from what you do yourself, not from what you tell him to do. Remember- actions speak louder than words!!

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