There are so many issues relating to obesity in children today.

It has been linked to low and middle income families, blamed on inactivity, and associated with poor dietary choices, but I don’t think it is just one thing alone, but a combination of factors.

It is estimated that in England a third of children in the 10-11 age band are overweight or obese.

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A sedentary lifestyle

In a study by Wilkie et al (2016) it was noted that those children with a moderate to vigorous physical activity and longer sleep duration were less likely to be in the overweight or obese category.

The study also looked at television viewing time and computer use – something that has also been blamed for the increase in overweight children. They noted that both of these factors were positively associated with overweight and obesity in the children.

All types of screen-based activity can contribute towards obesity, however, television viewing is particularly bad as it can be associated with consuming calorie dense/nutrient-void snacks, which contribute more to weight increase.

Temptations

Even the advertisements that children are exposed to tempt them into buying the kind of foods and drink that contribute to making them obese. Companies are also now targeting computer games, phone apps, and social media to reach their ideal market.

This is all done directly to the children, bypassing the parents or carers.

The problem with the kinds of foods that are calorie dense but nutrient poor is that they are more likely to encourage weight gain. These are the foods that are addictive – often high in sugar or flavour to ensure that they are consumed time and time again.

A rich nutrient supply early in childhood is very important for growth and development.

What can we do in order to prevent our children becoming obese?

1. I think the first step is to promote healthy eating habits as soon as possible

Introducing children to unhealthy, high calorie food early in life is not the best plan of action. What they don’t know, they can’t miss. While we are still in control of our children’s diets we should do the best we can to provide nutrient-dense food such as vegetables and fruit.

fighting childhood obesity_2Showing our children how to cook from scratch is also an important skill that they should learn.

Knowing that food is made by putting together various ingredients and not just bought in a microwave packet or fast food container. Teaching them that treats are a great part of life – but once in a while. Letting them know the consequences of eating or drinking too much sugar or eating calorie-dense foods on a regular basis.

2. If we want the best for our children – surely they will want the best for themselves

Knowing that to maintain a fit and healthy body requires great nutrition, which will go on to help them lead a long and likely, disease-free life. Children love to learn facts and teaching them about the macronutrients and micronutrients in food can help them to explore the food labels of the foods they come across.

3. It is everything in combination that will help – lots of exercise, fresh air, nutritious food and a happy and healthy life

In today’s world everything is fast-paced. We drive most places, look for quick and easy options, and don’t seem to have time to even cook for ourselves. Remember how families used to sit around the table and spend time eating good home-cooked food instead of on a tray in front of the television?

Maybe it is time to go back to doing what our parents and grandparents used to do. Technology is fantastic, but surely an eight year old doesn’t need to spend every day on a computer or watching television.

Lots of exercise, walking or playing outside will also help them feel tired and so they will sleep for longer at night. This is when their bodies will repair and grow.

4. It is never too late to start to encourage good habits with children – and the best way to do this is by setting the example and eating well yourself

Limiting the time that the television is on in the home – rather than having it just as background noise. Having set family times when you can all go for a walk, or play in the park is also a great idea.

Showing children that physical activity can be more fun that switching on a computer console and playing a game.

Connect with Expert Lisa J Lowery-Jones.

References:

Multiple lifestyle behaviours and overweight and obesity among children aged 9–11 years: results from the UK site of the International Study of Childhood Obesity, Lifestyle and the Environment. Hannah J Wilkie, Martyn Standage, Fiona B Gillison, Sean P Cumming, Peter T Katzmarzyk. BMJ Open 2016;6:e010677 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010677

Child and adolescent obesity: part of a bigger picture. Tim Lobstein, PhD, Rachel Jackson-Leach, MSc, Prof. Marjory L Moodie, DrPH, Kevin D Hall, PhD, Prof. Steven L Gortmaker, PhD, Prof. Boyd A Swinburn, MD, Prof. W Philip T James, MD, Prof. Youfa Wang, MD, and Prof. Klim McPherson, PhD. Published online 2015 Feb 19.doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61746-3

Malik VS, Pan A, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain in children and adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr.2013;98:1084–102.

Alexander E, Yach D, Mensah GA. Major multinational food and beverage companies and informal sector contributions to global food consumption: implications for nutrition policy. Global Health 2011;7:26.

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