Written by: Cally Worden
Kids in the UK are among the most obese in Europe. Not good. Being overweight at such a young age means our children are at grave risk of developing lifelong health problems. There is much that we can do as responsible parents to prevent this. So why don’t we just get on with it? Most of the advice around tackling obesity is simple common sense. There will always be a minority of kids for whom weight issues are a result of medical issues – these cases are different and require expert intervention. But the majority of childhood obesity cases in the UK can be more easily managed. Get a grip, parents. This is our responsibility.
Begin in Pregnancy
Studies have shown that babies in the womb as young as 15 weeks can respond to different flavours. The food that Mums consume can be tasted in the amniotic fluid; amazingly (and somewhat alarmingly) growing babies swallow more of the fluid when it is sweet, than when it is bitter. That’s right, what you eat when pregnant can have an impact on your baby’s taste preferences. General advice is to eat a balanced diet that exposes your growing baby to a variety of flavours.
Don’t Sweeten the Milk
Breastfeeding Mums also transfer flavours to their babies via their breast milk, so again it’s important for nursing Mums to give their children a range of flavours to sample. The jury remains out on whether there is a link between bottle-feeding and obesity – the argument is that breastfed babies are more able to self-regulate their intake according to their hunger patterns, breast milk is less sweet than formula so doesn’t give baby a sweet tooth. Whatever your mode of feeding, watch your baby for signs he is full and stop the feeding at that point. As long as his weight-gain is steady and within guidelines you can be sure he is getting enough.
Research has proven that it can take repeated exposure to certain flavours before a baby will happily accept them. They tend naturally to favour the more palatable sweet stuff, but it’s vital at weaning stage to ensure babies also develop a taste for other foods. It is this introduction to a balanced diet that makes them more likely to consume a variety of foods as they grow up. So don’t give up at the first sign of a wrinkled nose a shake of the head. You owe it to your child to persevere, giving them the best possible introduction to the wonders of food in all its forms.
Limit Screen Time
With technology now an integral part of life, it’s increasingly common to find tiny children with their nose wedged into a device of some form or another. Experts recommend no TV or device exposure at all until the age of 2. But we live in the real world and know that’s virtually impossible. The trick is to moderate your child’s exposure to and use of technology. It should account for just one small part of their overall activity each day. And these limits need to continue as they grow. Obesity is in part linked to lack of physical activity – when did you last see a child bouncing on a trampoline while playing Angry Birds? Exactly.
Encourage Physical Activity
Yawn! Yes, we all know that getting active at any age is essential for our well being, but this message is wearing thin. It doesn’t mean it’s not important though. Kids need to be active if they are to remain healthy. Playing out in the street seems to have died a death, so it’s important to find other ways to help them let off physical steam. Invest in fun outdoor kit for your garden. Walk to school. Sign them up for extra-curricular sports and clubs. Take time to go the park. And lead by example. If you are a couch potato then chances are they will be too. Get up, get out, and start being a good role model.
Dabble with your Diet
Food needs to be fresh, fun and interesting if kids are going to be engaged. My daughter (7) would happily live on pizza, my son on anything sweet (literally anything). It would be easy to give in anything for a quiet life. But I don’t. I regularly weather the moans and the painfully slow eating as I serve up a diet that is varied and balanced, which does include pizza and sweet stuff … in moderation.
I believe it’s our job as parents to educate our kids about food. We buy fresh produce and cook from scratch most days. The kids know where fresh food comes from. And they prefer it. On lazy days I’ll attempt to sneak in a processed meal or frozen quick fix, it invariably gets less than rave reviews. I don’t mind this really – its shows my efforts to teach them about food are working. And it doesn’t have to cost the earth – that’s a myth. You can eat well on a budget.
I know it’s not a popular view, but I do think the childhood obesity crisis is largely down to us, the parents. Kids don’t feed themselves – they consume whatever we serve up. They aren’t inherently lazy – but they will model our behaviours, including a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise if that’s what we show them as the norm. It’s time to wake up and start doing right by our kids. It’s never too late.