The Careful Management of Childhood Obesity

The Careful Management of Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a growing concern for many families and communities.  There has been a clear shift in childhood malnutrition from stunting to a global epidemic of childhood obesity.  Studies have shown that this is due to the consumption of diets that are high in starch and fat with reduced physical activity and sedentary lifestyles.

Children and adolescents who are overweight / obese are more likely to have higher BMI’s as adults.

Similar to adult obesity, adolescent obesity impacts all major organ systems and promotes inflammation and chronic disease development into adulthood.  They are at increased risk for several health problems including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, insulin resistance and diabetes.  Additionally, it can also have negative effects on a child’s self-esteem, as well as their ability to form positive relationships with others.

There are many steps that families can take to help prevent or manage childhood obesity.  See Table below.

Steps to manage childhood obesity as a family
Encourage healthy eating habits• Eating mindfully – without any distractions from TV / Ipads / cellphones etc.
• Try not skip any meals.
• Eat together as a family as often as you can.
• As a parent, try not to encourage / praise / reward “good” outcomes of the mealtime and try not to punish “bad” outcomes of the mealtime. For example, if your child did not eat her green beans, try not say things like “if you eat your green beans, you can have dessert” or if she did eat her green beans, do not react to that either. Likewise, if she ate a chocolate, try not to respond negatively to it. Just let it be. I understand that this is very difficult to do, but it is effective. Especially if this is consistent behaviour.
Lead by exampleChildren learn more from what you do than what you say, so it’s important to model healthy behaviours yourself, including eating a balanced diet and being physically active. Consistency is key here too. Yes, there will be some days that you may not be able to put together a balanced and nutritious meal due to time constraints, finances, your energy levels (we all need a break), but as long as you attempt to model healthy behaviours as often as you can.
Health interventions should be family lead, and not focused on the individual child.We want our children to have a healthy relationship with food. Incorrect management of childhood obesity can lead to eating disorders. So, when you make dietary changes, try not to make it about your child. It must be a family lead intervention.
For example,
• try not to say things like: “we can’t eat chocolate because “Jack” is dieting”.
• on that note – NEVER use the word diet or dieting – rather say “healthy eating”.
• don’t make the child in question eat different foods to the rest of the family (ie. no chocolate for “Jack” but we can have). Rather make the changes as a family without making it seem like a huge difficult change. It is something you are all doing together as a family so that you can all be healthy.
Promote physical activityEncourage your child to be active by finding activities they enjoy, such as playing sports, going for family walks, or participating in dance classes.
Limit screen timeReduce the amount of time your child spends watching television or playing video games, and encourage them to spend more time engaging in physical activities. It is recommended that you try get them to spend less than 1 hour per day in front of a screen.
Seek professional helpIf your child is struggling with obesity, consider working with a dietitian to develop a plan that addresses their needs and helps them to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and a healthy relationship with food through adolescence and adulthood.
Offer the family a variety of nutritious food, daily.See table below.
Offer the whole family a variety of nutritious foods such as:
Your 5 Vegetables & Fruit per dayAny fruit or vegetables – offer a variety each day.Try not to serve them with lots of butter / cream / sugar etc.
Include lean protein at each mealChicken, eggs, fish, low fat cheese (cottage cheese), beans and legumes, nuts & nut buttersNo skin on the chicken / fat on the meat. Low fat dairy products.
Replace refined carbohydrates with whole grainsBasmati / brown rice, sweet potato, whole-wheat pasta, bulgar wheat, oats, bran flakes, weetbix, low GI seeded breads etc.High fibre = >7g dietary fibre / 100g product
Replace sugary drinks with water or sugar free cordialStill or sparkling / clean tap water and occasionally watered-down fruit juice.0 calories, 0 sugar added
Include small amounts of healthy fats in the dietAvocado, nuts, nut butters, olives, olive oil, fatty fish (Omega-3; pilchards / sardines / trout / herring / salmon) Offer these more than the saturated fats (one’s that come from an animal source).
SuggestionsFood ExamplesDescription

Childhood obesity is a complex issue, but with the right support, children and families can overcome it. By promoting healthy habits, being physically active, and seeking professional help when needed, parents can help their children reach and maintain a healthy weight.

Healthy Snack Ideas

Whole-wheat crackers and/or vegetable sticks (carrots / cucumber / celery etc) with

hummus / sugar free peanut butter / low fat cream cheese

Low fat yoghurt

Apple slices with sugar free peanut butter

Home-made fish cakes

Home-made carrot / banana muffins

Butternut crumpets

Biltong sticks

Boiled egg slices on crackers

Egg muffins