Parents, teachers, and health professionals need to try and formulate a plan of action to combat childhood obesity or better still, prevent it from every occurring in children.
Combating inherited tendency to obesity
Seeing that it is true that obesity tends to run in families and that obese parents are likely to have obese children, parents who have weight problems should try and encourage their children to eat a balanced diet and be as active as possible. Leading by example may benefit the entire family!
Make a concerted effort to lose weight before you fall pregnant so that your baby is not premature, because low birth-weight infants are exposed to the risk of a number of conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease in later life.
Start your children out in life with the best possible advantage by breastfeeding babies for at least six months or more. Research indicates that breastfed infants are less likely to develop into obese adults.
Once your child start to eat solids it is important to adjust portion sizes to an infant’s restricted capacity to eat food, and not your own. Don’t dish up large quantities and accept the fact that a small child will eat much less than an adult. Never force a child to ‘eat up’ when it is obviously satisfied. The seeds of future overeating are often sown in early childhood.
Ensure that your children are physically active
Be aware of the importance of physical activity in combating obesity, particularly in children. Don’t let your children become couch potatoes. It is so easy to let children watch TV and play computer games all day, because it keeps them occupied and requires much less effort from you, the parents.
Take an interest in the types of physical activity that are available to children in the modern world. If they don’t walk or cycle to school any more, they need alternate activities on a daily basis. Find out what types of sport are available at your child’s school and if these are inadequate or cannot accommodate your child, because he/she is not a sports star, then arrange for them to participate in other physical activity.
Arrange play sessions with other children, investigate facilities at your local sports clubs, gyms, swimming pools and dancing clubs. If you live in an area where such facilities are not available, set an example and either take your children for long walks in the fresh air, or cycle or swim with them, or be proactive and arrange gym classes or cricket coaching - anything to get those children moving and doing. It is really worth it in the long run and you will also benefit from such activities.
Healthy eating habits
Keep an eye on what your children are eating - in your own home, at school and at their friends’ homes. Make provision for plenty of healthy snacks - milk, flavoured yoghurt and Yogi-sip, fresh and dried fruit, wholewheat sandwiches or muffins, nuts, cheese and crisp vegetables. Avoid take-away-foods and high-energy snacks, like cold drinks, crisps, pizzas, deep-fried chicken, and chocolate.
Teach children to eat balanced meals regularly and not to skip breakfast. Pack nutritious, tasty lunch boxes for them to take to school, instead of just giving them money to buy food at the tuck-shop. Check what foods are available at school tuck-shops and if you think that the foods and drinks on offer are not nutritious, then make your voice heard.
All these dietary and other countermeasures require effort on the part of parents, especially mothers, but in the long-run your child will reap the benefits by learning good eating and lifestyle habits, which will prevent a whole host of diseases and obesity. Think of it this way: By putting some time, thought and effort into planning your child’s food intake and physical activity, you are ultimately saving yourself the effort and anguish of trying to help children lose weight if they should become obese. Prevention is always better than cure.
Written by registered dietician Dr IV van Heerden/DietDoc
Any questions? Ask DietDoc
- (Health24, updated September 2012)
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