Child obesity is a problem: fear for parents with small children and a huge burden on families with overweight or obese children.
Do you know how to prevent it?
Here are the 10 critical points where things can go wrong...
There is more and more discussion recently about the responsibility of the food industry for child obesity and this is a good news. Probably you follow and hopefully support Jamie Oliver’s campaign THE FOOD REVOLUTION tackling child obesity.
If you would like to know more and join the campaign here is the link:
Child obesity: the keyword is prevention
However, who can do the most to avoid child obesity is us – the parents.
We vote with our money when shop certain products, we choose the way how to feed our family and we teach them consciously or unconsciously how to approach food.
Parents’ responsibility in the fight against child obesity is extremely important and unquestionable.
Child obesity cannot be treated focused only on the child itself; it is a family problem and it must be treated on this level. However, the key is the prevention, and we have to do everything to stop this epidemic growth in child obesity (and in obesity in general). That’s why I believe in Jamie’s global food revolution.
To help you here are 10 bullet points where things can go wrong – so these are the critical points where we should concentrate to prevent the formation of eating problems.
Check these and if all are okay in your family – I can assure you – you have nothing to worry about. Just keep up with your good job.
#1 Give a good example of healthy eating
Parents are the biggest influencers of their children’s eating habits. What they eat, how to eat, why they eat – cannot stay hidden from their children. The genes what predispose us for obesity exist but they can be overridden by healthy diet easily. So we cannot blame our parents for the bad genes – but we do have to think about the inherited bad eating habits. If you wish for a healthy life for your children, follow a healthy diet yourself. There is no way to teach children to love broccoli while parents eat chips only. They are watching us, they copy us in their toddlerhood, they follow us in their childhood and they take away this experience for the rest of their lives.
#2 Never use food as a reward or punishment
If we want to avoid the development of any kind of eating disorder we have to stop connect food to feelings and psychological situation. Using food as a reward just teaches them that food can provide cheer, compensation and comfort in complicated situations. And they will use it later as a tool to make them feel better in the short term – but comfort eating will not resolve their problems, just lead to obesity and health problems.
#3 Never control our child appetite
It is the toddlerhood when we all tend to be frightened of the weird eating habits and go to the direction of “just one more spoonful” way. I have to admit this is a risk for me too – as I am a control freak. So I have to force myself not to take over control over my children’s appetite. First, we should accept toddlers are explorers: they are just discovering tastes (with their super sensitive taste buds) and are learning their own body (taking things to the limits like hunger, thirst, tiredness etc.) What can we do? With lots of patience, we can help them how to recognise their own needs and how to response them. So they will be able to recognise their hunger and thirst and eat when they hungry and stop when they are full. To be precise toddlers already know this. We are who has to learn to follow their needs and be careful not to ruin their natural appetite control.
I know that this is not easy. It is not easy to keep a buffet in your house for continuously snacking toddlers and obviously nurseries are not prepared for this. But we have to accept that in toddlerhood the ‘3 main + 2-3 snacks’ is not the only way to satisfy their needs. They have time to socialise their eating patterns when they already know their body and can recognise their needs.
#4 Offer real food
This sounds already as a cliché – as everything is about ‘real food’ and ‘clean eating’ nowadays. The truth is that we are spoiled by food industry so much that it is really hard to find our way back to real food. On one side is the home-made food without additives, using fresh, low-fat, high-fibre ingredients, with controlled sugar and sugar- and salt content- while on the other side is the lack of time, the familiar tastes and the convenience and practicality of readymade food.
#5 Offer a wide variety of foods
It is a good idea to offer a wide variety of foods from early toddlerhood. Children’s taste changes very often and unexpectedly. What was a favourite yesterday maybe a „yuck” today. I believe the most important thing to keep their mind open. Do not force them to eat anything but give them the opportunity to try everything from salad leaves through olives to chilli peppers. The rule is: never persuade them to eat. It is okay if they split the newly tried food out. Every food groups offer endless opportunities. Therefore, no need to give up if your child doesn’t like cheese, for example, offer yoghurt, cottage cheese, quark or simply milk. There will be something that they like surely (exception is the case of lactose intolerance, of course) –if not today, then tomorrow.
We also have to accept, children too have a taste preference. It is okay, that they – just like us – do not like everything. Forcing them to eat what they don’t like has no benefit at all. But we also should not comment when they one day do want to eat that –earlier refused – food.
One important note on this: just because your child has narrowed his diet to a few number of dishes – you cannot stop offering him other food. This means that exciting, fresh and healthy food goes onto the family table – even if your child does not even touch it. Believe me, this is just temporary. They love to discover, if you do not force him, do not comment his behaviour – and the rest of the family enjoys the ’normal’ food, they will join in soon.
#6 No prohibited food
This is important. What is prohibited that is even more attractive. We can hide chocolate/sweets/candies from them for a while – but one day they will have the opportunity to try them. I see more sense in preparing them for these treats than try to ignore them and leave your child vulnerable to the temptation. What can we do? Firstly we have to show them real tasty food: the natural sweetness of fruits, the lovely texture of good quality bread etc. Then we can introduce them to the world of treats, explaining to them what to look for, quality instead of quantity.
#7 Give as much attention and care as possible
Obesity and eating disorders are usually a cry for help and attention. We don’t need to wait for this cry. Giving as much love, care and attention as possible can help our children to become a confident and self-loving adult who do not need to turn to food for comfort.
#8 Help children to avoid boredom
Boredom is good somewhere – it gives children opportunity to find creative ways to play. But if snacking turns to be a kind of entertainment, that is a problem. Opening a cupboard full of crisps, sweets and biscuits can be the same comfort as turning on the telly – and very often the two goes together.
But we can fill that cupboard with craft tools or books or board games…
#9 Move and have fun
There is no way that a child doesn’t want to join in when an adult plays a game. It doesn’t matter what is it really: football or yoga or street dance. Look, children like to go to train with others, they can enjoy swimming lessons with their school mates, but nothing compares to a basketball match in the backyard with dad. That is more than exercise, that is fun, that is quality time with parents and that will be probably one of their most treasured memory about you in their adult life.
#10 Educate your children about food and healthy lifestyle
We teach our children how to take of themselves, how to cross the road. Why would we miss the opportunity to teach them the basics of healthy eating? How can we expect them to choose between healthy and unhealthy if we don’t teach them? We must talk about food with our children and answer their questions with responsibility. They need to know why our body needs certain nutrients and where to find them. It is also our duty to teach them smart shopping: let’s equip them with the knowledge what is behind fancy packaging and meaningless marketing claims.
These above the most important steps what a parent can do to prevent children being overweight or obese, but there are still so much to do. Child obesity is a complex issue and it needs action on every level – individual, family, community and global society equally.