Protect Your Child From Obesity

Around 2.4 million British children are overweight or obese. How can you avoid dangerous food habits and stop your child from becoming another statistic?

Common bad habits and how to break them

Overweight children more often than not become overweight adults. In the UK alone, one in four children is overweight and seven percent are classified as obese . That’s around 2.4 million children affected by overweight and obesity. So what can you do to stop your child becoming another statistic?

Portion size

If you think that portions of food are bigger than they used to be, you are absolutely right! Dinner plates are about two inches bigger in diameter than they were 20 years ago. Research has shown that a predictor of how much food a child eats is how much is on the plate, so make sure portion sizes are child appropriate. Encourage your children to take small bites, and chew the food until it’s mushy enough to swallow. Even better, allow children to serve themselves and teach them to put single portion sizes on the plate.

Car journeys

Keeping your children occupied during a long car trip very often involves giving them snacks and drinks for the journey. Food isn’t the only side-tracker! Using food to keep children occupied will only encourage them to eat when not hungry. How about popping in a children’s CD for a sing along, or a playing a game like ‘spot the post box or the red car’. If they have to eat and drink something because it’s nearly lunch time, keep it simple, like carrot sticks, dried apricots, wholemeal bread sticks, apple wedges, raisins, unsweetened apple juice or water.

Eating Out

Treat time – family dining out. This doesn’t mean the children should eat the same as the parents. Select ‘children’s options’ which are more often on the menu these days. Also, puddings are nearly always high in saturated fat (some puddings contain 1000 calories!), so think about sharing with your children! Children drinking a coke is now seen as ‘standard’, and while one Coke would be a real treat, two would mean 400 calories. There are 200 calories in 12 fluid ounces of coke and about 12 spoonfuls of sugar!

Eating all the wrong foods at special occasions 

Big events usually involve an excessive amount of sweets, ice-cream, chocolate, and cola. We don't want to be party poopers, but do children really need to eat more than one ‘treat’ on outings? Start out by making them aware that they can only have ONE special treat to eat whilst out. No arguments! For Easter, they only need ONE chocolate egg which they should eat a small piece of over the four day period. At Halloween, collect the sweets, but share them out over the coming weeks with others who visit the home. Limit the time children are out collecting, and try to make Halloween more about carving a pumpkin than sweet collections.

Ice-cream is only real ice cream if it is described as ‘Dairy Ice Cream’. No vegetable fat is allowed in dairy ice cream. But most ice creams are not called that. For example, Tesco Vanilla Flavour Soft Scoop Ice cream, which costs around £1 for a 2 litre pack, is what you might serve at a child’s birthday party. However, it is made up of partially reconstituted lactose whey protein concentrate, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil, dextrose, guar gum, flavourings and colours. No Vanilla and No cream, but very high in fat.

Eating in front of TV

Research has shown that 50 percent of children now eat in front of the TV. They fail to notice what they are eating and exactly how much, and they are less likely to respond to their own bodies' signal for hunger. Also, it has been shown that children who eat dinner at the table with their parents will eat a healthier meal and consume less saturated fat. Family meal times may be the only time to get together, so cherish the time!

Snacking on foods with high GI

GI foods were first talked about in the Hidden Nasties article, but what is the glycemic index (GI)? It is simply a measure of how high blood sugar levels rise after consuming carbohydrates from various food sources. For example, carrots and potatoes have nearly the same GI as white sugar and white bread (about 70), but carrots have only 195 calories per pound, boiled potatoes contain around 450 calories per pound, whereas a pound of bread contains 1250 calories, and sugar contains 1725 calories per pound. So how does it work? In simple terms, it’s not really about ‘calories’, its more about GI numbering. The GI runs from 0 – 100 and the higher the number, the faster the rise in blood sugar. Foods with a low GI value will slowly release sugar into the blood so providing you with a steady supply of energy and giving you a feeling of fullness for longer . This makes you less likely to continuously snack.

Snacking is sometimes essential if your child is really peckish, so instead of giving your child high GI foods like bagels (72), rice cakes (82), Rice Krispies (82) or a baguette (95), which will lead to wanting more snacks, be smart and try to combine Low GI foods involving the ‘5 a day’ notion.

Low GI (0) to High GI (100) ‘5 a day’
Acts as one portion
Cherries (22) 14 Single cherries
Dried Apricots (31) 3 single apricots
Apple (38) 1 medium
Pear (38) 1 medium
Apple juice unsweetened (40) 150ml = one portion
Orange (44) 1 medium
Green Grapes (46) 1 handful
Banana (55) 1 medium
Raisins (64) 1 tablespoon
Cantaloupe Melon (67) 1 slice

Snack foods can be a tricky situation though, and there is nothing wrong with snacking per se, provided you ONLY buy healthy snacks.

And finally…

Physical Activity

Children should be physically active every day. At least one hour a day is acceptable. If your child is not walking, bicycling, dancing, playing football, netball, basketball, games, swimming, or similar for at least an hour a day, be concerned that he or she is not getting enough physical activity. Watching TV and playing on the computer for a short period each day is okay, but try to ensure your child gets active as well.