(Health Secrets Newsletter) Childhood obesity rates in the U.S. and other western countries are astounding. Around 17% of children aged between two and nineteen are considered obese, while many more are overweight. Since the 1980s the rate of childhood obesity has tripled and the figures continue to rise.
Children who are obese are likely to go on to become obese adults. They are far more likely to suffer from chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease than children who maintain a normal weight.
There are many reasons why children are obese and a lack of physical activity is certainly high on the list. However, other reasons are linked to the modern diet and the fact that many children fill up on energy dense sugary foods with very little nutritional value, and lack the fruit, vegetables and other nutrients that are essential to good health.
Here are some top tips to help you make sure your child is getting a healthy diet:
- Young children are naturally fussy eaters but what they like and don’t like will change by the day. Keep offering your child vegetables and healthy foods even if they won’t eat them. Don’t get angry if they refuse certain foods, simply remove the food and try again another time, but don’t offer an alternative. Praise your child if they do taste the food, even if they only manage a mouthful.
- Children need a lot less food than we imagine. You might think your child doesn’t eat enough, but unless they are actually losing weight and seem unwell, the chances are they are getting enough. Giving them small amounts that they can finish is better than serving up unrealistic portions. It is better to think about what your child eats over the duration of a week than during an individual meal to get an idea of how good their diet is.
- Try not to reward your children with more food when they eat well, especially if that is sugary food such as candy bars, chocolate, or sodas. This will introduce the idea into your child’s mind that these sugary foods are good foods, and that the foods they are being rewarded for eating, such as vegetables, are bad foods. Instead use rewards such as stickers, and maybe a trip to the park or swimming pool if they eat well for several days.
- How your child eats often has an impact on what they eat. Children that regularly sit at the table to eat with their parents tend to be less fussy in their eating habits than children fed separately. This may not always be practical if it means your child would be too tired to eat by the time everyone is home and dinner is on the table, but by generally making mealtimes fun and a time to chat you can help your child to have good associations with food. Ask a grown up that your child respects, such as a grandparent, to eat with you from time to time as your child may be more willing to eat well for them.
- Use every opportunity to introduce fruit and vegetables. Fresh fruit and natural yogurt is a much healthier choice than cookies or cake, and in winter a homemade fruit crumble with whole wheat flour and minimal sugar can be a great choice. Dried or chopped fruit can easily be added to low breakfast cereal to sweeten it. Carrot and cucumber sticks are great for dipping in hummus for a healthy snack. Even whole wheat pizzas can be loaded up with pineapple, peppers, mushrooms, and a variety of other vegetables.
- Look at the food you have in the pantry at home and ask yourself if it’s really necessary to buy it. Cakes, cookies, sweets, sodas, and cereals or processed foods packed with sugar aren’t good for you or your children. While they’re within reach it’s easy for you to give in, or for older children to help themselves. If you just don’t buy those types of food there won’t be the temptation to eat them. Instead stock up on fresh fruit and natural snacks such as homemade popcorn, as well as fresh meat, fish and vegetables to create healthy nutritious meals.