Written by: Cally Worden
Research has shown that being overweight when young means a child is more likely to experience weight related health problems later in life. Some kids are naturally so skinny you fear they may snap, others have a softness to them that can tend to fat if it is left unchecked. If you suspect your child is overweight there is plenty you can do to help get their bodies back on the right track. Here’s how:
Lead by Example
Children learn so much from their parents. If you lead an inactive lifestyle and rarely make healthy food choices, your kids are likely to do the same. Getting out and about with your children is a great way to enjoy family time together, and encourage a healthy attitude to fitness and exercise at the same time.
It doesn’t have to mean a 10 mile trek – a trip to the park, or a kick-about with a ball at the park are ideal ways to engage in exercise without putting your kids under pressure. Swimming, is generally very popular with kids too, and a nature trail or treasure hunt are also fun ways to inspire enquiring minds.
Maintain the Momentum
Experts suggest that young children need around 60 minutes of exercise each day to remain healthy. While this may sound arduous, cast your adult perceptions of exercise aside for a moment and think this through – walking to and from school, running around a play park, a game of ‘tag’, dance class, skipping in the playground – all of these count as exercise, and it doesn’t matter that they come in small bursts.
Short pockets of activity each day keep your child moving, and you can gently point out to them what a great workout they’ve had, or how good they must be feeling afterwards. This helps to instil a sense of pride in keeping fit, and over time will generate a natural desire in your kids to get up and move about.
A child’s appetite can be up one minute, and down the next. Always remember that your offspring will be the first to let you know (usually very vocally!) if they are feeling genuinely hungry. So go easy on the portion size at mealtimes, and foster a steady eating pace that helps them to realise when they are full. And if your child is still hungry after eating, then either serve up another small helping, or encourage them to satisfy their hunger in a healthy way, with fresh fruit.
Getting meal portions right is key to ensuring a balanced diet. A child who consistently eats too little of their main meal may fill up on unhealthy snacks. A child who is over-faced on a daily basis may clear their plate, but could be over-stretching the tummy and triggering false hunger signals in their body, causing them to gain weight over time.
A Balanced Diet
I’m a firm believer that a little bit of what you fancy does you good (!). Depriving kids of treats like chocolate, sweets, and junk food seems nutty to me – it is more likely to make them crave these tasty diet-bombs and over-indulge when they have the chance. Instead, I include them in the diet for my kids, in moderation, and just frequently enough to stave off their cravings. But … I also make sure we have regular dialogue, even if it’s just the odd passing comment, about which food choices are healthy, and which are not, and why. Talk about 5-a-day, and why too much sugar and fat can be a bad thing. This is stuff they need to know.
Education is crucial in the battle-of-the-bulge at any age, and I’m determined my kids will be equipped to make healthy food choices as they grow up because they understand the thinking behind it (not just because Mum says so).
Involving your kids in shopping and cooking is also a great way to achieve this. I’m not talking every day – there are many times when the thought of my kids joining me in the kitchen is enough to have me speed-dialling pizza. But every so often I do let them loose. There is always something they can do – my three year old loves to peel mushrooms for me, and then massacring them with a toddler knife (maybes this should worry me?!).
Scrap the Screen Time
Technology rules the roost in many homes these days. Sure, it has its place, but sitting comatose all day before a beeping, flashing, noisy, screen of pleasure (big or small, handheld or wall-mounted) is not good for your health.
Inactive pastimes have become more prevalent, and in the process we have lost the joy of simple pleasures like a walk in the rain, catching up with family time over a meal at the table, and exploring the outdoors. Switch off the gadgets from time to time, and help your kids find other ways to play.
Research has also shown that kids who spend too much time on gadgets often get less sleep than they need to keep their bodies and minds in a healthy state. Ironically sleep is the best inactive time your child can have. Limit tech-time in the evening, and make sure your kids are getting to bed when they need to.
Helping your child maintain a healthy weight is not only about giving them the best physical start in life – it has been proven that they are generally fitter, more confident, have a higher self-esteem, and have a greater capacity for learning too. What’s not to like?