According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), obesity is one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. Childhood obesity in particular is a big concern, as overweight children are very likely to become overweight adults.
Statistics show that one in three primary children are currently overweight, while one in five are classified as obese. This means that in the years to come there will be yet more people who are overweight and at risk of developing serious health problems. Therefore, we need to start taking important measures to educate our children about healthy eating and physical activity.
We spoke to registered dietitian, Maria Dow about her thoughts on childhood obesity and where the problems lie.
She believes a key issue is that some parents fail to recognise their children are overweight which means the opportunity to make important changes at a crucial age are missed.
“The problems begin at weaning stage and are not often acted upon until it’s too late”, Maria explains.
Crucially she believes parents need to take a lead role in their children’s lives from a young age to encourage them to be more physically active and choose healthier snacks over fattening crisps and biscuits.
“One third of British school children eat crisps daily,” Maria says. “[Parents should] encourage healthier options such as fruit (tinned or dried) or vegetable sticks (pepper, carrot, cucumber, celery) as well as seeds, breadsticks and oatcakes.”
Significantly, a study published last year supports the notion that without appropriate parental guidance, childhood obesity – and global obesity in general – will continue to be an issue.
Researchers from the University of California and Brown University, U.S, found that even after a doctor’s diagnosis, many parents often fail to see their children’s weight as unhealthy. As a result, they do not make the necessary changes to their children’s exercise and eating habits.
While the majority of the parents involved in the study accepted the diagnosis that their child was overweight or clinically obese, nearly 30% didn’t see their child’s weight as a problem.
Study author, Kyung Rhee referred to this as a direct result of the “normalisation of obesity”.
She added: “Without parents’ involvement, it’s pretty difficult for kids to change. In general, parents are the ones buying the food, parents are the ones setting the example.”
So what can families do to take action against the childhood obesity problem and help prevent the next generation from growing up to be overweight adults?
Our dietitian, Maria outlines seven top tips below:
- Ensure the whole family, schools and early years settings are on board with healthy eating and physical activity messages, perhaps even with written policies on a board.
- Discuss and support healthy eating from the weaning stage onwards. Many children who are overweight or obese at the age of six had crisps and sweet snacks as toddlers and do not eat breakfast.
- Ensure regular meals in the family home – including breakfast.
- Meals should be based around the NHS eat well plate.
- Keep an eye on portion sizes. Use a specific child-sized plate for younger children to reduce the temptation to provide bigger portions.
- Encourage milk and water and deter from drinks high in sugar.
- Encourage active play and structured activities on a weekly basis to ensure 60 minutes activity is achieved daily. Limit TV and computer screen time to no more than two hours a day.