Helping your child to be a healthy weight
Children carrying extra weight are at risk of type 2 diabetes and other future health issues. They are also likely to struggle with low self-esteem.
The routine measuring and weighing of 10 and 11-year-olds in the UK is an attempt to nudge early intervention to prevent further weight gain. While research suggests that we as parents are not great at spotting when our child is overweight, it is also likely that highlighting or commenting on a weight problem could be harmful to the child.
So how do parents support their child to become a healthy weight without affecting their self-esteem further still?
Child health and weight management
It is important that any efforts to change dietary patterns are taken on by the whole family. Talk with your child about how, as a family, you want to make healthier choices to benefit everyone’s health and well-being. Focusing on the health benefits of making positive choices is likely to inspire your child more than focusing on what is being taken away. I don’t recommend any reference to body size, food intake or weight when discussing dietary changes with your child. Your child’s age will determine how you explain the benefits of a healthy diet for them.
Children with weight issues tend to have cravings for sweet or starchy foods. These cravings can have a real physiological basis and may make initial changes difficult for them. However, slow and steady steps in the right direction will help support your child to move away from sweet foods.
It is important to recognise if your child may have blood sugar imbalances that might affect their appetite and food choices. Does your child get ‘hangry’ if they haven’t eaten in a while? Are they generally more settled after food?
Sometimes the simplest intervention can have the biggest effect. Finding a way to make sure your child has some protein with each meal and snack can help them to feel fuller for longer, avoiding the peaks and troughs of blood sugar levels resulting in more balanced energy and fewer cravings.
Starting the day with protein is important and this is the meal parents often find the most problematic. A good choice would include eggs or nut butters. Most breakfast cereals are not adequate, although, some could be improved upon by adding chopped nuts or seeds.
There are some foods that contain additives that affect children’s appetites encouraging them to eat more than they need. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) in some brands of crisps, noodles and gravies is one of these. MSG promotes insulin release, encouraging fat storage and it can also disrupt appetite signals, leading to overeating.
Sweeteners, as well as sugars, may also be problematic, there is some evidence to suggest that when sweeteners are used in place of sugars in drinks - the impact on blood sugar and insulin release is the same as if sugar had been in it. This means the impact of artificially sweetened drinks on weight gain could be the same as sugar-rich ones. For this reason, it is best to encourage children to drink mostly water and not to rely on squash or juices for hydration.
When considering if your child’s gut bacteria has been disrupted, think about whether your child has had repeated doses of antibiotics? Do they have a white coating on their tongue? Are their bowel movements difficult to pass, or are they loose?
When there is an overgrowth of yeast or less-beneficial bacteria as a result of antibiotics, sometimes this can affect a child’s appetite. They may crave sweet foods or struggle to feel satisfied. It is also possible that the ratio of bacteria is skewed in favour of weight gain. You can run a stool test with your practitioner if you’re interested in looking into this.
It’s important to consider your child’s weight in the context of their general health. If they have a patchy health history or are generally feeling run-down, or do they have digestive issues such as regular tummy aches or constipation? These wider factors may also be having an impact on their weight and can be addressed with the right nutritional programme.