Obesity is a growing (excuse the pun) problem in the UK, especially in children. Obesity levels have trebled since the 1980s and a 2007 study carried out for the Department of Health predicts that if current trends continue, 60% of men and 50% of women will be obese by 2050. One in five 4-5 year-olds and one in three 10-11 year-olds are currently overweight or obese.
Health problems associated with obesity include heart disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure. These are just the physical problems. Being overweight can also affect a child’s self-esteem and there is a possible link between obesity and depression.
Tackling a child’s weight is a sensitive issue. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, you can check their BMI (body mass index) against a centile chart for their age and sex. If they are above the 85th centile, they are overweight and, above the 95the centile, obese. To calculate BMI, divide weight in kg by height in metres squared. I must stress, however, that you should see your GP if you are concerned.
If your child is overweight, there is plently you can do and it’s important to act early to prevent them becoming an obese adult and developing serious health problems. Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Don’t put them on a diet
Children don’t respond to being denied food and the very idea of ‘dieting’ will cause resistance. Instead, make a lifestyle change. Swap sugary foods for healthier alternatives i.e. porridge with honey instead of a sugary cereal. Don’t deny them treats, just limit them. Giving treats as a reward makes them more desirable so try to avoid praising good behaviour with their favourite sugary snack.
2. Be a good role model
If you’re eating healthy food, you child is more likely to follow. Make changes as a family and you’ll all reap the rewards.
3. Get active
The more active we are, the faster we lose weight. Chances are, if your child is overweight, they won’t enjoy exercise and will probably find it very difficult to start with. The key is to find something they enjoy and start gently. Don’t make it feel like exercise and they’re more likely to do it. Start simply walking to the shops instead of driving, going for a short bike ride, splashing around in a swimming pool or even putting on some loud music and dancing around the living room!
4. Limit their time in front of a screen
Agree with your children on a set time they can spend watching TV, playing video games or at a PC each day and stick to it.
5. Make sure they get a good night’s sleep
Research has linked poor sleeping habits with being overweight. Try a gentle wind-down in the evening with calming activities. Watching TV in bed and playing games in the evening can over-stimulate children and make it difficult for them to sleep.