CHILDREN REQUIRE a great deal of energy because they are growing. It is essential that they have a varied and nutritious diet in order for them to develop. However, if a child takes on more energy in the form of food than it can burn off, the extra energy will be stored as fat in the body. This is the same for adults.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) found that one in three children, between the ages of two and seven, do not achieve the minimum recommended levels of exercise. Almost two thirds of girls, by the time they are 15, are classified as inactive, because they just don’t do enough exercise.
In the last 10 years, the number of obese six-year-olds has doubled, while the number of obese 15-year-olds has tripled. Health organisations, such as the BHF and the Health Education Authority, recommend that children between the ages of five and 18 do at least one hour of moderate intensity exercise every day.
Just an hour of exercise every day can help fight obesity and reduce the risk of developing serious health problems later on in life. High blood pressure is common in children who are overweight or obese, and this can be a contributing factor to heart disease. Other health problems that can arise are strokes, type two diabetes and bowel cancer. As well as these physical problems, a child being overweight can also suffer from psychological problems. Teasing is very common and this can affect the child’s confidence and self-esteem, and may lead to isolation and depression.
Why are children overweight?
A high proportion of children lead very unhealthy lifestyles, this is because their diets are unhealthy and they have a distinct lack of physical activity. Few children are overweight because of medical problems; it is more likely that they are overweight due to their parents being obese. Genetic factors are thought to be less significant than the fact that families share the same eating and activity habits.
Convenience food is abundant and this certainly does not help children. High-calorie food such as sweets and some fast foods are highly promoted specifically to children.
Walking or cycling to school and back, playing in the playground or taking part in regular sports is not as regular in the daily lives of children as it used to be. TV and games consoles tend to be a more popular past time. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2000) concluded that 40-69 per cent of children over the age of six spend less than the recommended minimum of one hour a day doing moderate intensity physical activity.
What is a healthy weight?
To interpret your child’s healthy weight you should get the help of your doctor. To get an accurate result, you need to take into account the child’s rate of growth, sex and age, and compare these against charts.
Never should a child be put on a weight loss program without medical advice, because this can have significant affects on their rate of growth. Dieting can also lead to early development of eating disorders and so should not be encouraged. Rather than children being encouraged to lose weight, they should be advised to maintain their weight and grow into it as they get taller.
Maintaining a healthy weight…
Parents should try to encourage their children to eat a healthy and well balanced diet; this should include plenty of fresh, nutritious foods. Choose complex carbohydrates, which contain a lot of energy (about half the energy in a child’s diet), such as bread, potatoes, pasta and rice.
There are always healthy options to high fat foods. Instead of chocolate, crisps and cakes, give your child dried fruit or fresh fruit, crusty wholegrain bread or crackers. Grilling or baking food rather than frying helps to lower fat content. Fresh juices diluted with water instead of fizzy high sugar drinks. Choosing a low-sugar cereal for breakfast and serving it with fruit and milk makes a good breakfast. Frozen yoghurt makes an excellent and very tasty low fat version of the most popular ice cream!
Increasing physical activity and
reducing physical inactivity
It is recommended that a child should gradually increase the amount of moderate intensity activity, such as brisk walking to at least one hour every day. There are many different ways to encourage this, such as walking to school or the shops rather than getting in the car. Suggest going to the beach or a local park for a kick around with a football or a game of rounders.
Try to reduce the amount of physical inactivity such as watching TV and playing on games consoles. It is recommended that no more than two hours per day is spent doing these stationary activities, approximately 14 hours per week.
Remember your own eating and exercise habits have a direct effect on your child’s, so start by leading by example. Parents who enjoy a healthy diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and exercise on a regular basis set a good example for their children. Establishing a good eating and exercising pattern from a young age will help children stick to this as they get older.
• Local health clubs also offer children’s activities. Estrela Health and Beauty in Luz offers a variety of kids’ classes, and the pool is open at certain hours for children every day. Estrela offers memberships from one day up to an annual membership.