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Keeping kids healthy in National Childhood Obesity Week

7 July 2021

Obesity is one of the most serious health epidemics facing our society today with 1 in 3 children currently overweight or obese in the UK. 

If your child is very overweight, there's lots you can do to help them become a healthy weight as they grow.

Nicola Storey, Deputy Head of Nutrition & Dietetics and Community Lead at North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “In the UK, 9.7 per cent and 20.2 per cent of children aged four-to-five years and 10-11 years respectively were classed as obese or severely obese in 2018/19 based on data from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP). Compared to 2009/10 NCMP data, this represents an overall increasing trend.”

Overweight children tend to grow up to be overweight adults, which can lead to health problems such as type 2 diabetesheart disease and certain cancers.

Research shows children who achieve a healthy weight tend to be fitter, healthier, better able to learn, and are more self-confident. They're also less likely to have low self-esteem and be bullied.

As a parent, you can help your child become a healthier weight by encouraging them to be more active and eat well..

Listen to your child's concerns about their weight. Overweight children often know they have a weight problem, and they need to feel supported and in control of their weight.

Let them know that you love them, whatever their weight, and all you want is for them to be healthy and happy.

Nicola added: “A healthy lifestyle should be promoted from early in childhood to reduce the trend in childhood obesity. This should be for the whole family with parents acting as role models.

“Keeping a diary or journal of what the child is eating and activity levels can help to raise awareness and monitor the situation.

“They should:

·       Look at frequency and type of snacks – can they be reduced or replaced with a healthier alternative

·       Avoid sugary drinks

·       Adjust portion sizes if needed or look to increase the proportion of vegetables on the plate and decrease other foods

·       Ensure they are physically active for at least an hour per day

·       Limit screen time to no more than two hours per day.”

Steps for success

Here are five key ways to help your child achieve a healthy weight:

  • be a good role model
  • encourage 60 minutes, and up to several hours, of physical activity a day
  • keep to child-sized portions
  • eat healthy meals, drinks and snacks
  • less screen time and more sleep

If your child has a medical condition, the advice in this article may not be relevant. You should check with a GP or hospital doctor first.

Be a good role model

One of the best ways to instil good habits in your child is to be a good role model.

Children learn by example. One of the most powerful ways to encourage your child to be active and eat well is to do so yourself.

Set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride instead of watching TV or surfing the internet.

Playing in the park or swimming with your children shows them being active is fun.

Any changes you make to your child's diet and lifestyle are much more likely to be accepted if the changes are small and involve the whole family.

Find out ways to get healthy as a family

Get active

Very overweight children don't need to do more exercise than slimmer children. Their extra body weight means they'll naturally burn more calories for the same activity.

All children need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day for good health, but it doesn't need to be all at once.

Several short 10-minute, or even 5-minute, bursts of activity throughout the day can be just as good as an hour-long stretch.

For younger children it can take the form of active play, such as ball games, chasing games like "it" and "tag", riding a scooter, and using playground swings, climbing frames and see-saws.

For older children it could include riding a bike, skateboarding, walking to school, skipping, swimming, dancing and martial arts.

If your child isn't used to being active, encourage them to start with what they can do and build up to 60 minutes a day.

They're more likely to stick to their new activity levels if you let them choose the type of activity they're comfortable with.

Walking or cycling short distances instead of using the car or bus is a great way to be active together as a family. And you'll save money too.

Find out the amount and types of physical activity recommended for under-5s

Find out the amount and types of physical activity recommended for children and young people aged 5 to 18

Join Change4Life for free and your child will get their own personalised activity plan full of good ideas for getting moving.

Child-size portions

Avoid feeding your child large portions. A good rule of thumb is to start meals with small servings and let your child ask for more if they're still hungry.

Try not to make your child finish everything on the plate or push them to eat more than they want to.

Avoid using adult-size plates for younger children as it encourages them to eat oversized portions.

Beware of high-calorie foods. Calories are a measure of the energy in food.

Knowing how many calories your child consumes each day, and balancing that with the amount of energy they use up in activity, will help them reach and stay at a healthy weight.

Eat healthy meals

Children, just like adults, should aim to eat 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day. They're a great source of fibre and vitamins and minerals.

Getting 5 A Day shouldn't be too difficult. Almost all fruit and vegetables count towards your child's 5 A Day, including fresh, tinned, frozen and dried.

Juices, smoothies, beans and pulses also count.

Be aware that unsweetened 100% fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies can only ever count as a maximum of 1 portion of their 5 A Day.

For example, if they have 2 glasses of fruit juice and a smoothie in 1 day, that will only count as 1 portion. 

Their combined total of drinks from fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies shouldn't be more than 150ml a day, which is a small glass.

For example, if they have 150ml of orange juice and a 150ml smoothie in 1 day, they'll have exceeded the recommendation by 150ml.

When fruit is blended or juiced, it releases the sugars. This increases the risk of tooth decay, so it's best to drink fruit juice or smoothies at mealtimes.

Discourage your child from having sugary or high-fat foods like sweets, cakes, biscuits, some sugary cereals, and sugar-sweetened soft and fizzy drinks.

These foods and drinks tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients.

Aim for your child to get most of their calories from healthier foods like fruit and vegetables, and starchy foods like bread, potatoes, pasta and rice (preferably wholemeal).

Switch sweetened drinks for water.

Less screen time and more sleep

Help your children avoid sitting and lying around too much, as it makes it more likely for them to put on weight.

Limit the amount of time your child spends on inactive pastimes such as watching television, playing video games and playing on electronic devices.

There's no hard and fast advice on how much is too much, but experts say children should watch no more than 2 hours of television each day.

Remove all screens (including mobile phones) from their bedroom at night.

It also helps children stay trim if they sleep well. It's been shown that children who don't have the recommended amount of sleep are more likely to be overweight.

The less children sleep, the greater the risk of them becoming obese. Lack of sleep can also affect their mood and behaviour.

Getting support

If you have received a letter about your child's weight after they were measured at school, you can use the contact number on the letter to speak to a health worker and get more information about what you can do and what support is available in your area.

A GP or practice nurse can give you further advice.

More information can be found here https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obesity/treatment