Let’s Talk About Childhood Obesity

Recent data from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) has found that one in three 10-11 year olds and more than one in five 4-5 year olds in England were overweight or obese. This is a big problem.

Everyone likes to think that they’re doing what’s best for their children. Unfortunately, with the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding childhood obesity as one of the most pressing global public health issues facing us today, it seems as though that is not the case. Try as we might, the lifestyles many of us are allowing our children to lead are slowly killing them, with obese children and teens far more likely to develop a number of different health problems than their healthier peers. They also run a higher risk of carrying their obesity into adulthood, and facing another range of health issues as a result.

Every year, around one million school children in England have their height and weight measured by the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) to provide a detailed picture of childhood obesity in the country. Figures for 2014-15 showed that 19.1% of children aged 10-11 were obese, while a further 14.2 were overweight. It is time that we all took childhood obesity seriously.

What are the health risks associated with childhood obesity?

Being obese or overweight as a child will have negative effects on a child’s life both in the short term and in the future. What’s more, once your child has reached obesity, it’s pretty difficult to get them back down to a healthy weight. This means that it’s really, really important to make sure your child has a healthy lifestyle including a good diet and exercise even if you don’t believe they’re at risk of becoming overweight. Prevention is much easier than treatment.

Of all of the potential negative effects of obesity, the emotional and psychological effects are the issues most often reported by children. Heavier children can often be teased, bullied and discriminated against by their peers, leading to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. In fact, in one study, the quality of life reported by obese children was as low as that reported by children on chemotherapy suffering from cancer. Of course, the disturbed sleep and fatigue often suffered by these children may have contributed to these issues.

The list of issues with health and wellbeing often suffered by obese children does not end there. Further potential issues include:

  • Obesity in adulthood;
  • Morbidity;
  • Disability;
  • Higher mortality rates;
  • Raised blood pressure;
  • Raised cholesterol;
  • Metabolic syndrome;
  • Type 2 diabetes;
  • Early puberty;
  • Eating disorders;
  • Skin infections;
  • Respiratory problems such as asthma;
  • Musculoskeletal disorders such as tibia vara (Blount disease) and slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE).

How can I help my child?

Many parents understand the risks associated with childhood obesity, but just don’t know how to prevent it. Here are a few helpful pointers to get your children moving in the right direction.

Introduce healthier eating habits – just a few small changes will make a big difference!

  • Encourage your children to eat lots of fruit, veg and wholegrain.
  • To keep your kids healthy and strong, include poultry, lentils, beans, fish or lean meat to add protein to their meals.
  • Encourage your children to drink plenty of water to keep them hydrated without the unnecessary calories and chemicals.
  • Try to cut down on sugary drinks, and foods high in sugar, saturated fats and sodium.
  • Check your serving sizes – kids don’t need to eat as much as adults!
  • Introduce low-fat or no-fat milk to make breakfast time a whole lot healthier. Even just switching from full-fat to semi-skimmed is a great start.

Ditch the high-calorie temptations.

Yes, there’s nothing wrong with a treat every once in a while, but do try to limit snacks that are packed with salt and sugar. There are plenty of healthy treats that your kids can enjoy, including:

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Chopped vegetables such as broccoli, peppers or carrots – great with hummus!
  • Grapes
  • Healthy crackers or ryvita
  • Bananas

Ditch the high-calorie temptations.

Children and teenagers are advised to take part in at least an hour of physical activity every day, so you need to help them stick to that as well as possible. Try introducing physical activity to your own daily routine and encouraging your kids to join in. It’ll be a great bonding experience, and will help you keep your kids in tip-top condition!

For great exercises you and your kids can try out together, check out Fit Kids from fitin15.org.

Teach your kids about the benefits of staying active.

There’s nothing wrong with helping their physical activities to be educational as well! Help your kids understand about the importance of staying fit and healthy by teaching them about…

  • Keeping their bones strong
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Weight management
  • Self-esteem
  • Blood pressure

Make their favourite dishes healthy.

Lots of kids love foods like pizza, sausages and chips, but that doesn’t have to mean going for a takeaway every time you want to treat them! Lots of recipes can be made healthy by changing just a few ingredients and methods.

Try introducing new healthy foods too – you never know what might become their next favourite food!

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