A note about childhood obesity.
I’m not an expert on children, I’m not an expert on obesity. I have worked with children for over ten years, both in my dance school and by voluntary means with the Girl Guides.
I know it’s wrong when a pudgy child comes into my class every week with a bag of crisps, a fizzy drink and makes their way down to the chipper after class. I don’t know how many times they visit the chipper, but I know that it’s at least once a week after coming to my class. As a teacher, the only thing I can do in that situation is to ask the child to leave the fizzy drink and crisps to the side for the duration of class and that if they get thirsty, they need to bring some water next time. Fizzy drinks do nothing for thirst anyway.
There’s a very fine line between deciding if your child carries “puppy fat” or is going down the obesity road, and as a parent if you think your child is big for their age, it must be very hard to tackle it without shattering their self esteem.
4 out of 5 children in Ireland do not meet the minimum recommended daily exercise/ activity guidelines (60 minutes per day). 1 in 4 children in Ireland are either overweight or obese. These are shocking statistics given that Ireland is well underway to be one of the fattest nations in Europe. Overweight and obese teenagers now carry the same risks of type 2 diabetes and heart disease as adults 40 years older then them. Shocked? Well read on for some help.
What do you do if you think your child may have a weight problem?
First of all – consult your GP!! Do not take any advice from anyone other than a qualified professional, and your family doctor is probably the best person to talk to as they know your family history. Call in advance for an appointment and your doctor should be able to handle the situation discreetly and respectfully to your child’s dignity.
Children can be picky eaters, yet they don’t buy the food that they eat. So what are you feeding them? Chicken nuggets and chips? Did you know that processed chicken products are made from the scraps left after the good meat is cut off the chicken? What’s the meat content in those sausages? Cheaper sausages contain around 53% of actual meat, the rest is water to fill it out, and additives to give it them flavour (cause who really likes pork minced with water?)
Your child doesn’t like fruit or vegetables? Did they even taste them? I was a picky eater as a kid and I turned my nose up at any veg proposed to go on the plate, I was never made to at least try the veg to see if I liked it. I’m now slowly adapting to new foods after years of assuming I would get sick from the taste. So get them to at least try it out before they push the plate away.
Portion sizes, a child does not need to eat even half as much as an adult. Check that your portions are relevant to your child with respect to their age, height and level of activity. I’m learning myself to stop eating when I become full, rather than clearing the plate in a flash thinking about the starving people in Africa.
Tip: If you’re trying to reduce their portion size and they protest, give them a nice big glass of water with their meal and that should sort them out. A lot of the time, unless we haven’t eaten in a long time, our bodies mistake hunger for dehydration, so we could all do with a glass of water to suppress those food cravings.
For God’s sake give yourself a bit of peace and stop arguing with your child to finish their dinner. If they’re full they’re full! Don’t let them have dessert or sweets if they say they’re full and if they get hungry later that’s ok too!! Save the leftover dinner for later if it can be reheated, and if not then it wouldn’t hurt to have some prepped suppers in the freezer for a quick bite.
Treats are just that – treats! Try swapping sweets for non edible treats or added play time. Would you rather put up with a tantrum than giving them daily insulin injections? Your child is not your friend. If they get mad because you made the parental choice that they have had enough sugar for one day, then just let them stew.
If you’re visiting Mc Donalds once a week, more, or getting take aways then you need to reduce that too. Back in the 50’s when Mc Donalds opened, the standard adult meals were the same size as today’s Happy Meals. It’s terrible the way that these fast food chains purposefully target children, but they would like it much more if it was a “once in a blue moon” event.
Avoid processed foods, both for yourself and the little ones. Basically anything in a packet is processed. Processed foods contain additives, chemicals, preservatives and hidden sugars to improve the taste. If you plan your weekly meals, you’re already winning the battle.
Sugary drinks are empty calories. We’ve all seen the pics of sugar content in drinks, but I should probably include it anyway.
Educate them, but don’t scare them. “Johnny, you have to eat your greens so you will become nice and strong and live a very long happy life” opposed to “If you don’t eat that, you’re going to get fat and the other kids will bully you”
If they’re getting to that age where they’re self conscious (generally from age 12, but can be older or younger) the worst thing you can do is say “you’re fine, it’s only puppy weight”. That can open a whole big can of worms. Listen to them, take their opinions on board and again go to the GP for advice.
Finally – activity. Let them try different sports or physical activities to see what they like. Encourage them to keep at it, be part of a team. Kick them out of the house for an hour, get them practicing their extra curricular activities. It will keep them social and spend less time with their face mushed to a screen.