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Helping Our Kids Avoid Obesity

Children and weight loss

Child obesity levels are on the increase in Australia and around the world.

As well as having social and psychological consequences, children that are overweight often develop potentially dangerous health problems that can affect them for the rest of their lives.

This article discusses the reason for the rise in childhood obesity and its consequences, offers some eating and exercise tips to help children lose weight, and finally discusses what we as parents can do to help our kids.

What constitutes being overweight for children?

A child with a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile for their age and sex is considered overweight.

BMI uses height and weight measurements to estimate how much body fat a person has, and parents who suspect that their child may be overweight can check with their family doctor or pediatrician who can calculate their child's BMI using a special BMI calculator designed for children.

  • Please note that the BMI calculator available for use on this site is for adults above 20 years of age only and is not appropriate to calculate the BMI of children.

Why childhood obesity is increasing

Put simply, the major cause of childhood obesity in Australia is our modern lifestyle.

Children today eat more and exercise less than any other generation before them and the result is that children are getting heavier and unhealthier.

The characteristics of our modern lifestyle that contributes most to the problem of childhood obesity include:

  • Advances in technology designed to make life easier and more entertaining.
  • Unprecedented access to cheap, high-calorie, high-fat food (i.e. junk and fast food).
  • Modern leisure activities such as playing computer games and watching TV.
  • Exposure to increasing amounts of marketing for fast and snack foods.
  • High density living with fewer parks and play areas for kids.
  • Poor lifestyle habits being passed on from one generation to the next.

Childhood obesity is believed to cause many serious problems such as:

  • Psychological and social problems resulting from being teased and tormented.
  • Poor self-esteem and possibly depression.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol levels.
  • Orthopedic (bone and joint) problems.
  • Metabolism problems.
  • Making asthma worse.
  • Increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
  • Sleep Apnea.
  • Liver and gall bladder disease.
  • Premature or early aging.
  • Adult obesity - where more serious health problems, like heart disease, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, etc, are developed.
  • Pain for parents who witness their child's suffering.

Because obesity becomes more difficult to treat in adulthood, the best time to overcome it is when we are still young.

Let's have a look at some of the things that can be done if our children are overweight or obese.

Eating Tips to Prevent Obesity in Children

Eating habits are formed during childhood and are very difficult to change later.

Children who are brought up on constant diets of snack and junk food will grow into adults with ingrained bad eating habits and are destined to suffer from weight problems, even if they somehow manage to avoid doing so as children.

Therefore, it is vital that children are taught good eating habits as early in their life as possible.

To help you get your children eating as healthy as possible, here are some common and practical eating tips that anyone can implement:

  • Be a role model and set a good example for your children by eating healthier yourself.
  • Use your authority to control what food is purchased and cooked in the home.
  • Do not put your child on a restrictive diet without expert medical advice.
  • Encourage your children to lead healthy lives and don't just focus on weight loss.
  • Encourage your kids to eat healthy food by making sure it is tasty, well prepared, and easily available at home.
  • Limit fast and snack foods by feeding children healthy meals before visits to shopping centres, the movies, etc.
  • Plan grocery visits so you can avoid taking the children shopping with you, or if you do have to take them, avoid the snack food and soft-drink aisles.
  • Don't let them eat in front of the TV which may lead to unhealthy food associations and 'mindless eating'.
  • Don't bring "problem" foods home, like chocolate, potato chips, ice cream, lollies, cakes and fizzy drinks.
  • Stock your home with healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals and bread, lean meats, poultry and seafood, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Prepare meals with your children - kids often enjoy cooking and as well as having fun, they can learn about healthy cooking and food preparation.
  • Don't force children to finish their food if they are full, they'll eat more than they need to and will adopt the 'clean plate' eating philosophy for life.
  • Be aware of "emotional overeating" and try to address the cause of any stress and tension in your child's life.
  • Don't use food as a bribe or reward.
  • Encourage your children to drink water and limit their opportunities to drink soft-drinks, fruit drinks and the like which are usually packed with sugar and calories.
  • Start teaching your kids good eating habits as early as possible.

If you need more tips or you're still not sure what and how much to feed your children to ensure that they develop good eating habits and grow up as healthy and happy as possible, seek professional advice from a registered dietitian or nutritionist.

Exercise tips to prevent or reverse childhood obesity

As well as doing whatever we can to make sure our children are eating healthy foods, it's just as important to also make sure they are getting enough exercise and developing a love of being active.

Again, this needs to be done as early as possible because the heavier children become, the less likely they'll be to want to exercise.

As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure that our children have the opportunity to become more active.

If you want to help your child avoid becoming overweight, or if you already have a child who is overweight, the following tips may be useful:

  • Make exercise as fun as possible and don't call the activities your children engage in "exercise" which has the wrong connotations for children.
  • Try to help your child get at least thirty to sixty minutes of "exercise" broken down into ten or fifteen minute segments.
  • Be a role model by being active yourself and engage your children in activities like walking, hiking, tennis, swimming, basketball, or bike riding.
  • Make fitness a family affair (for ideas on how to do this read our article on Family Fitness and weight loss).
  • Schedule regular exercise time at home, around your neighbourhood or in "kiddy gym" for young children.
  • Let children set the pace and intervals of family walks, bike rides, etc.
  • Encourage your children to play sports without being pushy.
  • Take advantage of family holidays by making sure they are "active breaks".
  • Be creative. For example, get the kids to walk the dog, vacuum the house or wash the car for their pocket money.
  • Limit TV and computer time to a maximum of 2 hours per day.

How parents can help their kids

Although it's easy to blame the growth of childhood obesity on our modern lifestyle, many parents of overweight children need to recognize the significant role they've played in making their children that way if things are going to change.

Remember, most children with poor exercise and eating habits have learned those habits from their parents.

Here are the ten most important things a parent can do to help their children avoid or reverse childhood obesity:

  1. Be a role model - eat healthy food and be active yourself and your children are likely to follow your lead.
  2. Help your kids to develop basic fitness skills by helping them to enjoy swimming, walking, cycling, running, dancing, hiking, skating, etc.
  3. Fill your cupboard and fridge with healthy foods and drink and limit the amount of snack and junk foods your children eat.
  4. Spend quality time with your children and have fun with them away from the TV and computer.
  5. Make small changes first and build on them over time - radical change is unlikely to be accepted and adopted long-term so take small but progressive steps forward.
  6. Focus on positive reinforcement and encouragement rather than banning foods, setting strict diets and being negative or teasing your child about their weight.
  7. Pay attention to your overweight child's mental as well as physical health.
  8. Nip the weight problem in the bud as early as possible - an 'ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'.
  9. Get professional help if you need it - like diet advice from a dietitian, exercise advice from a personal trainer, or help with psychological issues from a psychologists, for example.
  10. Don't give up - change doesn't always come easy but persistence pays dividends in the long run.

Conclusion

Child obesity levels are on the increase in Australia.

As well as having social and psychological consequences, children that are overweight often develop potentially dangerous health problems that can affect them for the rest of their lives.

This article discussed the reason for the rise in childhood obesity and its consequences, offered some eating and exercise tips to help children lose weight, and finally discussed what we as parents can do to help our kids.

Good luck with helping your children avoid childhood obesity or reversing it if it's already a problem, and thank you for visiting weightloss.com.au.

Copyright Ultimate Weightloss.

This article was written by Scott Haywood.

Scott is the editor of weightloss.com.au. Scott has developed an expertise in fitness and nutrition, and their roles in weight loss, which led him to launch weightloss.com.au in 2005. Today, weightloss.com.au provides weight loss and fitness information, including hundreds of healthy recipes, weight loss tools and tips, articles, and more, to millions of people around the world, helping them to lead happier, healthier, lives.

You can follow Scott on Google+ for more interesting articles.

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