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