With childhood obesity rates on the increase, it’s more important than ever to encourage healthy eating habits in children.
A poor diet – one that contains too much saturated fat and sugar – and an inactive lifestyle are the main causes of childhood obesity. Children who are overweight or obese face an increased risk of health problems, including asthma and Type 2 diabetes, and are more likely to have low self-esteem.
The best way to prevent children and young people from becoming overweight or obese is to encourage them to eat healthily and be physically active.
Healthy eating at home
When you’re leading a busy life, it’s easy to fall back on convenience foods, especially when many children seem to prefer eating them. The eating habits we develop as children tend to stay with us, so encouraging your children to eat healthily at a young age will not only provide their growing body with the nutrients it needs now but will help them stay healthy into adulthood.
Try to give your children food that is as close to its natural form as possible, which usually means less packaged and processed foods.
Remember, children are not born with an addiction to sugary drinks or deep-fried food, and may even prefer healthier food choices if they are introduced to them.
Cook more meals at home so that you can avoid the added sugar and fat of ready meals and takeaways, make healthy snacks like fruit, nuts and dried fruit available.
Take your children shopping with you and teach them about the traffic light system of food labelling. Even very small children can be involved in preparing meals.
Change 4 Life has lots of healthy recipes to appeal to children.
Healthy eating at school
Schools play an important role in encouraging children to develop healthy eating and drinking habits from an early age.
School canteens are now regulated in terms of the type of food and drink that can and cannot be served, and nutritional standards exist for school lunches. It means unhealthy foods are limited and the availability of fruit and vegetables has been increased.
Childhood obesity rates are rising in Wales, with one in four children overweight or obese when they start school. The children of obese parents are more likely to be obese themselves, often because they share the same poor eating and exercise habits as their parents. Children who are obese are very likely to grow into obese adults.
Being overweight or obese can have a detrimental effect on your child’s physical and mental health, while they are growing up and in adulthood.
Helping a child to lose weight
Children’s bodies are in a continual state of growth but if you are concerned that your child is putting on too much weight, e.g. they cannot fit into clothes for children their age, you might like to try the following ideas:
- Reduce portion size – this should be done gradually and by everyone in the family.
- Try to stick to regular meal times and eat together as much as possible.
- Keep snacks out of reach.
- Spend more time outside as a family and encourage outdoor activities.
- Encourage your children to take an interest in shopping and cooking.
- Discourage mindless eating, e.g. meals in front of a computer or television.
- Make sure your child has the recommended amount of sleep for their age.
Ideally, the child’s weight problem should be addressed as early as possible. 10 steps to a healthy weight outlines ten simple things you can do to help your child be a healthy weight by the time they reach school.
Getting professional help
If you have particular concerns about your child’s weight or eating habits it’s worth talking to your GP or practice nurse.