The big fat blind spot which every parent must avoid
In Australia, at least one in four toddlers, children and adolescents has a significant weight issue, but as parents it appears we are not so good at identifying this.
In fact, research published in today’s Daily Telegraph suggests that it is not until toddlers turn into obese young children that parents see their child’s weight as a problem. The issue with this is that children and adolescents do not ‘grow out’ of obesity and if they are obese as teenagers, there is an 80 per cent chance they will remain obese for life.
After working in the area of child and adolescent obesity for more than 10 years I feel that I am in a good position to tell you that childhood obesity is a massive (pardon the pun) problem here in Australia. When you see a child who appears to have a little ‘puppy fat’ or ‘muffin top’, you are actually looking at a serious weight issue. Not only are there health and body image issues, but the psychological impact of being obese or overweight - the teasing and bullying that comes with it, or the physical limitations that accompany it, even for young children.
Now if you asked any parent, it is safe to say that no parent wants their child to suffer in life any more than they have to. For this reason it is our responsibility as parents to do something about weight problems, and do something about it as early as possible.
Signs young children may have clinical weight issues include needing clothes that are more than two sizes bigger than their age, for example needing a size 12 even though they are only 8; eating more than adults, having distinct tummy fat and constantly looking and asking for food. Most importantly if you do identify or think that you child may be gaining weight too quickly; some changes may need to occur at home. Surprisingly enough these are not complex changes but powerful ones when it comes to managing your child’s energy intake long term.
If you don’t want them to eat it, don’t keep it in the house
It is very easy to identify families who are prepared to take weight control seriously, they simply stop buying the foods; the potato chips, chocolates, snack food, soft drinks and biscuits that they know their children (and themselves!) should not be eating. On the other hand, excuses such as, ‘but it is only for guests; or my other child is not overweight so why should he/she be punished’ are simply indicating that the parents are just not getting it. If you have weight issues in your family, and you keep buying the crappy foods that we know make people fat, it is pretty obvious what the issue is – you have to stop buying it or the kids will keep eating it.
Eating well does not have to mean that the family can never indulge, but the kids of today tend to have far too many treats, far too often. Ice cream after dinner, a sausage roll on canteen days, hot chips on the weekend, and that is before you take into account the parties, family visits and outings. By all means enjoy treats, but enjoy once or twice a week at most.
No sugary drinks
Of all the evidence linked to overweight and obesity in both children and adults, the need to eliminate sugar sweetened drinks is some of the strongest. This means that all juice, soft drink, cordial, energy drinks and flavoured water need to go.
Get them moving
If we were all as active as we are supposed to be, far fewer of us would have weight issues. While controlling your kids’ intake of high calorie food is important, the more active they are, the less the chance you will have to worry about what they are eating at all. So get out and get them active, every single day.
Model good behaviours
It goes without saying that if you are overweight, unfit, eat too much and watch too much television, changes are your kids will be as well. Naturally a big part of getting a child’s weight under control is getting parents to get their weight under control at the same time.
Nothing I have explained here is rocket science. Eat better, move more, and be a good role model for your children. You have heard it all before but still there are too many of us who are just not getting it.
So, today, rather than put this article into the health professionals nagging pile; or before you drag your child over to the scales, all you need to do is check your child’s waist measurement (take it around their belly button). Ideally their waist measurement should be less than half their height. For example if your child is 140cm tall, their waist measurement should be less than 70cm. If this is not the case, it is time to take things seriously and make some changes.
It is our job as parents to ensure that our children grow optimally. If you have an underweight child, there is no issue with identifying and dealing with this, quickly. And when it comes to eating disorders which affect an estimated 8 per cent of adults at some point in their lives, we are petrified and take things very seriously.
Childhood overweight and obesity is a different story. There is such stigma associated with identifying a weight issue that we are reluctant to identify it and even less prepared to treat it, even though it effects up to 25 per cent of our children.
As adults we all know too well how difficult it becomes to manage our weight as we get older. Let’s not let this happen to our children simply because we were too scared, too slack or too unaware to deal with it when we should have.
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