Childhood obesity is now at an all-time high, with 1 in 10 children joining primary school as clinically obese. By the time children leave primary school this has risen to 1 in 5. This can be a worry for parents who can see their children slipping into unhealthy eating habits and a lack of physical exercise. Research shows that children who are of a healthy weight are fitter, healthier, better able to learn and more self-confident. They are less likely to be bullied and less likely to develop health problems later on in their lives. So what can parents or carers do to help their children who have developed these habits, or to indeed, prevent it from happening? Here we try to answer these questions and offer some helpful advice.
Where Does It All Start?
There has been evidence recently to show that the seeds of childhood obesity can be sown as early as when the child is in the womb. The environment in the womb can predispose a child’s body cells to store extra fat, leading to changes in the child’s metabolism that can result in insulin resistance. The diet that mothers have while pregnant can play a part in the development of the foetus. If over-nutrition or poor eating happens during pregnancy then the child may then become more prone to diabetes or childhood obesity.
It is undeniable that, in many cases, childhood obesity is due to a combination of two main causes; eating too much food, particularly high fat and high sugar foods, and not doing enough exercise. It is unfair to put the pressure of these onto children, when in fact, these two causes are heavily influenced by family and the environment. Parents are role models for their children and are in a unique position to promote and support good behaviours. Here are some ways you can role model good diet choices:
– Portion sizes. Start a meal with a small portion and encourage children to ask for more if they are still hungry.
– Mealtimes. Try to have set mealtimes during the day and have everyone sit together at a table.
– Fruit and vegetables. Children need the same 5 a day as adults do. Encourage children to make healthy choices about snacks they choose. Make pictures on the plate out of fruit and veg to make it more fun.
– Sugar. Try to limit the amount of sugar that children have throughout the day. The recommended intake for children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day (5 sugar cubes) and children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day (6 sugar cubes).
As mentioned above, children should not be relied upon to make the right decisions when it comes to the amount of exercise they do. Parents or carers are the role models and they need to promote good choices about exercise. All children need at least 60 minutes of exercise a day for good health, but this does not need to be all in one go. Children do have PE at school twice a week and have at least 2 outdoor (weather dependent) break times a day so this does count, but should not be the only exercise they get.
– Travelling to school. If you can, get in extra exercise by walking to school. If your child prefers, they could scoot or bike with you instead of walking.
– After-school clubs. Your child’s school may offer after school sports clubs which children can attend or you may choose to take them to a club that you have looked at and chosen together (swimming, dancing, football, rugby for example).
– Yoga. Young children enjoy taking part in yoga activities. There are lots of easy resources you can buy to do with your children, or there are wonderful videos on youtube for children to follow along.
This is a big issue for parents. As children get older, they inevitably find tablets/phones/consoles and want to spend time playing games instead of going outside to play and exercise. Experts advise that children have no more than 2 hours of screen time a day. There are some ways that parents can help to reduce the amount of time a child spends on one of these without causing an argument.
– Bedrooms. Parents can refrain from allowing children to have TVs or consoles in their bedrooms. This will discourage children from watching/playing for long periods every day.
– Nighttime hour. For 60 minutes before bed, encourage children to turn off any screens and to spend time doing something else instead such as reading or playing a board game.
– Set Wifi limits. Parents can put timers on Wifi routers so that at certain times of the day or night the Wifi will turn off. This encourages children to turn devices off and spend time doing other things.
Lack of sleep can affect a child’s mood and behaviour and also their weight. It has been shown that children who get decent sleep at night will be less likely to become obese. Setting up a good bedtime routine will help children to sleep better at night. This routine should include a bath/shower, and for younger children should include a bedtime story, and for older children, possibly some quiet reading or a chat with a parent about their day.
Getting plenty of natural light during the day can also help children to sleep at night. Bright light suppresses melatonin, therefore, making your child awake during the day and sleepy at night. Also think about lighting at your child’s bedtime. Subtle and soft lighting before bed will help your child know that it is wind-down time ready for sleep.
All clinicians at Oxford CBT practice Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or are Psychologists, providing evidence-based interventions and support for a range of issues for both young people and adults. If you would like to book an appointment you can do so on our online booking portal. If you have a question please get in touch via our online contact form or call us on 01865 920077.