One in ten young people in the UK, is obese, according to new research. With growing concern over obesity in Britain, the Government is challenging families to address the issue by announcing plans to reverse the “time-bomb” in children’s health with measures designed to halve childhood obesity. These include restrictions on advertising, promotion and sales of food and drink containing high levels of fat and or sugar, including fast foods and energy drinks.
How do you know if your child is obese?
The “most robust” way is to check their body mass index (BMI) to see if their weight falls within the healthy range for their height. Children are measured and weighed for BMI in reception class and Year Six under the National Child Measurement Programme. Some local authorities send letters informing parents but you can check your BMI with the NHS’s online BMI calculator at:
How you can help if your child is overweight or obese?
Lead by example – The best way to encourage your child to eat well and be active is to do so yourself. NHS advice says the risk of a girl being obese at the age of eight is ten times higher if her mother is obese. The risk for a boy increases six-fold if his father is obese. Any change made to a child’s diet and lifestyle is more likely to be embraced if the change involves the whole family.
Encourage exercise – Children are recommended to have 60 minutes of exercise a day. It can be done in several short 10 or five-minute bursts of activity. Overweight children do not need more exercise as their extra body weight means they naturally burn more calories for the same activity. Swapping the car for walking or cycling on small journeys is one easy way to get the family moving.
Eat healthily – eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Experts say unsweetened 100% fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies should only count as one portion of a child’s five a day, because of high sugar levels. They recommend a combined total of no more than 150ml a day – which is one small glass.
Limit sugar – The NHS says many children are getting half of their sugar intake from sweetened soft drinks and unhealthy snacks. One can of coke alone has nine cubes of sugar, which exceeds the maximum recommended daily intake of sugar for an 11 year old (7 cubes)
Child-sized portions – experts advise avoiding adult-sized plates for younger children as it encourages them to eat more than they need. Start meals with small servings and let children ask for more if they are still hungry. It’s also advised that children be encouraged to eat slowly and not be forced to finish everything on their plate.
More sleep – Children without the recommended amount of sleep are more likely to be overweight. Children with less sleep in their early years are at risk of having a higher BMI at age seven. This link continues even when other risk factors, such as gender and physical activity, are accounted for. Poor sleep is known to affect the brain areas responsible for complex decision making, causing us to favour unhealthy foods.
Less tech – Even though sleep at night is encouraged, sitting and lying around too much in the day makes children more likely to put on weight. Experts advise that children should watch no more than two hours of television each day and parents are encouraged to remove all screens, including mobile phones, from their bedroom at night.
Talk and listen
It’s important to talk to children from a young age openly and honestly about food as a positive thing. Have open discussions about enjoying food, and take the focus away from body image to health and wellbeing. Don’t use negative words like ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ with your children and don’t talk about cutting down and not eating certain foods as it can make them more desirable.