The figures on childhood obesity are chilling. Between 1985 and 1995 the number of children in Australia who were overweight doubled and the obesity rate tripled. If this continues at the current rate, it is predicted that 65 per cent of young Australians will be overweight or obese by 2020.
Being overweight places stress on bones and joints, and contributes to a host of other health problems, including fatty liver, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and eating disorders. Children who are overweight have a greater chance of being overweight as adults.
We all know that we should eat healthily and get plenty of exercise, but the unfortunate reality is that we live in a society that is geared to doing the opposite. We tend to drive instead of walk, we eat out more where we have less control over what we put into our mouths, we are time-poor so we eat what’s quick and we have a many sedentary hobbies. Parents may want their children to eat well, but they are in a battle of wills with a well-financed industry that is geared towards selling salt, sugar and fat rich foods.
Yet it’s a battle that’s worth fighting. Being active delivers many benefits, improving bone density, muscle strength, flexibility, posture, concentration, sleep, and gross and fine motor skills among many other things.
Here are some tips for helping your child eat well and stay active.
- Get children involved in their food: Children are more likely to eat something if they feel invested in it. If you can grow some of your own food, that’s one way, but sometimes just helping out with the shopping or preparation of meals is enough to make them want to eat the end result and might be worth the extra time or mess involved.
- Don’t make food a battleground: Sometimes kids don’t feel like eating and that’s ok. You don’t want mealtimes to be a source of stress and unhappy memories. Put out a selection of healthy foods and let them serve themselves. If they don’t want to eat, that’s fine, but don’t let them fill up on junky snacks or milk later.
- Have the right foods on offer: eat plenty of vegetables, legume and fruits, pick wholegrain cereals where possible and include lean meat, fish, poultry (or alternatives) and dairy like milk, yogurt and cheese. When buying processed food, keep an eye on the sugar, fat or salt content, even if the food is marketed as “healthy”.
- Make treats a sometimes food: it’s easier to say no to child who is demanding something if you don’t have it in the house. But by the same token, you need to teach children that it’s ok to have lollies or cakes on occasion. Research in rats suggest that those who were denied any sugar were more likely to overeat when it was available than those who had sweet food as a part of their normal diet.
- Lead by example Children are more likely to eat healthily and move more if they see you doing it. Make sure you include plenty of active outings in your recreation, such as walks, bike rides and games.
- Limit screen time It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with watching TV or playing on the computer, it’s just that time spent there is time not spent doing something active. Current screen time recommendations are an hour of less for children aged between 2-5 and none for children under 2.
- Lean into it. We all have our own tastes so there are bound to be foods or activities that your child enjoys more than others. Keep encouraging them to try new things, but don’t worry about resorting to fallbacks. It’s better that your child eat heaps of cherry tomatoes than constantly turning their nose up at green beans.
If you’d like to know more about Caring 4 Kids’ nutritious menus and range of active lessons, contact Caring 4 Kids here (firstname.lastname@example.org)