5 Tips on How to Deal With Childhood Obesity

In 2014, one in every three 10-year old’s in England were overweight or obese. The UK has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in Europe, and it is set to rise. Becoming obese in early life has serious health implications for the child once they reach adulthood. So how can we ensure that our children do not become obese? We must show them by example.

You should provide your children with nutritious meals and snacks, and restrict calorie-rich temptations. As you buy the food that is in your cupboards, you must take responsibility for the food that is provided. If, as a family, you embark on this journey together, your child is more likely to maintain a healthy weight.

To help your child maintain a healthy weight, you must first assess the calories that your child consumes through the food they eat and the drinks that they have and balance it against the calories that they use through physical activity and normal growth. It is not a question of putting your child on a weight reduction diet, but instilling within them a healthier approach to food and how they consume it.

1. Encourage healthy eating

You want your child to have a healthy relationship with food, and by making small changes to the food that you make can make a big difference. Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole-grain products. If this is a big change to your usual diet, introduce change gradually to normalise the fact that new foods are being served. Suddenly changing a diet can cause food to become a bigger issue than it already is – you want the change to feel organic and natural, and certainly not as a punishment.

2. Make favourite meals healthier

Look at the ingredients that you cook with. You don’t need to stop making favourite recipes, you just need to look for alternatives to some of the ingredients. Swap to low-fat dairy products. Choose lean meats and poultry, and eat more fish to give your child the protein that they need. Instead of ice-cream for dessert, make some frozen fruit bars. This is a great opportunity for the whole family to get involved with making tasty but healthy alternative snacks. You do not want your child to feel that this is a negative experience, you want them to enjoy it too, and by spending extra time with them, you will all benefit.

Most people do not drink enough water, so encourage all of the family to drink more water and limit cordials and sugar-sweetened drinks. The body is not good at distinguishing between hunger and thirst; the symptoms of a gurgling stomach, light headiness and low energy levels are the same.

Think also about how you serve the food. How big are your plates? Use smaller dinner plates to encourage portion control. Always check labels of food to see the serving size the manufacturer recommends. Quite often the portions that we give contain more than one serving, which can mean that extra unseen calories are being added to a meal.

3. Remove calorie-rich temptations

If the temptation isn’t there, your child is unable to eat it. Older children have opportunities to buy their own snacks before or after school, which is something that you must be aware of. You need to harbour an honest and open relationship with them so that they tell you about anything they have bought. You do not want to push them into being secretive about their eating. Healthy eating must not be seen as restrictive or as a punishment.

Alternative snacks can be an apple, banana, carrots with hummus, or a piece of toast. Treats do not need to be cut out altogether, but are to be occasional, and not expected daily.

4. Educate as to the benefits of being active

Sometimes we assume that children understand why we are asking them to do certain things. “Get healthy” and “be active” are just notions to children, and they may not fully comprehend what they mean. They will be familiar with these phrases, but they may not have the context as to why they are important, so the benefits of being healthy and active need to be explained in terms that they understand.

Talk to your child sensitively and avoid the negatives of their weight, as they more than likely already feel negative about it. Instead, talk about the positives of being active. You can explain to them about how being active makes you feel good with the endorphins, and how they make any worry and stress feel a lot less. You can explain about how being active makes their bones and heart strong, and that its good fun to be active and will just make them feel great about themselves – losing weight is just a bonus!

5. Help your child keep active

It is recommended that children should participate in at least an hour of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week. Think about how you can encourage your child. Trampolining is a great form of exercise and works most of the muscle groups, it is also low impact so is not hard on the body. Football is a great exercise, and only requires an open space and a ball! Reward your child with a personalised football boot bag when they have managed to get a target number of goals past you. You need to keep them motivated by keeping it fun.

If you know somebody with a dog, you can ask them if you can take it for a walk. Your child will enjoy petting the animal, and not see it as a way that you have devised to keep them active. Diversion techniques are to be used, to encourage positive behaviours.

Making changes to the whole family’s approach to eating will help your child succeed. Small but permanent changes work better than a series of big and dramatic changes that can’t be sustained. Your child is growing, and so their body needs healthy food to fuel it, but by adopting the tips above their weight can be maintained, and long-term problems associated with obesity in adulthood can be avoided.