The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures the height and weight of around one million school children in England every year, providing a detailed picture of the prevalence of child obesity. The latest figures, for 2015/16, show that 19.8% of children in Year 6 (aged 10-11) were obese and a further 14.3% were overweight. Of children in Reception (aged 4-5), 9.3% were obese and another 12.8% were overweight. This means a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds were overweight or obese.
As a parent of a beautiful 5 year old girl, it shocks and sickens me that in such a developed country the health of our children is let down in such a catastrophic way. So here are my 7 ways to reduce the levels of overweight and obese children in Britain.
- Education, education, education
Children need to be educated from a very young age (3-4 years) on the differences between healthy and unhealthy foods, how these foods are utilised by the body and foods that are classed as healthy or healthy. In conjunction with the education of children, parents must also learn what is healthy and unhealthy for food for them and for their children. Burn the candle from both ends and in 20 years we will have a generation of 25 somethings who know all the basic nutritional theory to make informed decisions about diet.
- Physical activity must be fun
Sport isn’t the be all and end all (I wouldn’t have said this 10 years ago). There are a 1000 ways to be physically active, and it’s about finding that one way that your child likes. It may take trial and error, it may even take months and years but persevere as I guarantee you there is a physical activity out there for everyone (maybe start with a family walk).
- Limit digital time
The world moves forward and we move with it. However, it is important that use of the internet, tablets, television, smart phones do not dictate your child’s life. The way to do this is to provide enjoyable alternatives rather than just ban them from using digital devices. The more fun, physical activities you can offer the less of a battle you will have.
- Have meals as a family
According to a number of reports issued by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University(CASA), children who eat at least five times a week with their family are at lower risk of developing poor eating habits, weight problems or alcohol and substance dependencies, and tend to perform better academically than their peers who frequently eat alone or away from home. Eating as a family allows you to bond and develop social health. It means you have more control over the foods your family and children consume. It typically means as well that meals are eaten more slowly allowing for better digestion and feeling fuller.
- Treats are treats
Treats are exactly that a treat. When treats become a daily, or meal by meal occurrence they are no longer treats they are just a sugary part of the meal. Explain to children why you don’t eat treats all the time and the effects too much sugar or fat can have on the body. If children understand why they shouldn’t eat sweets, chocolate, or cakes all the time they will argue against the decision less.
- Remove the rose-tinted glasses
I am as guilty as any parent when it comes to this. We see our little darlings through ‘rose tinted glasses’ and sometimes fail to see what is right in front of our own eyes. In the terms of health this can prove disastrous for our children. ‘Puppy fat’ is just fat. Giving it a cute name of a baby dog does nothing for the effect it will have. According to NICE, 40% of overweight 2 year olds will become overweight adults, with that ratio rising to 70% for overweight 15 year olds. Fat is fat and if your child is carrying too much of it then it is up to you, with them to make a change.
- It’s time for the government to put their hands in their pocket
This is no longer a ticking time bomb; childhood obesity has already detonated! The government does recognise the issue and are taking some measures towards to rectifying the epidemic. However, we cannot rely on the government to make the changes, it has to be up to us. As parents, safety and wellbeing is our number one priority towards our children. If every one of us puts health before convenience, nutrition before bad habits and fun physical activity before laziness, then we can cure this epidemic of overweight children ourselves.