Childhood obesity is becoming one of the most worrying health conditions in many communities. It’s not just an aesthetic issue: more and more kids are being diagnosed with “adult” conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, heart problems and high blood pressure. The idea that your children may die before you do is enough to strike fear into the hearts of most parents.
The problem that most parents encounter is that pin-pointing the reasons for their children gaining weight can be difficult. As a starting point, consider some of the following as potential problems:
- Eating a lot of packaged foods, which are often high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, as well as artificial colours and flavours.
- Too many soft drinks, with each can containing around 10 teaspoons of sugar. The World Health Organisation recommends a total of 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily for adult women, so a single can would provide a massive sugar hit for smaller bodies. High sugar intake leads to high blood glucose, which prompts the body to release the hormone insulin. It’s almost impossible to ‘exercise off’ the sugar that was consumed, so the energy must be stored. Insulin carried the excess blood glucose to the cells for storage, and as such causes the fat cells to grow.
- Eating too many foods high in carbohydrates. All carbohydrates are digested into their simplest form: sugar. The consequence is that over-eating carbohydrate foods, especially highly refined carbohydrates, leads to higher blood glucose, higher insulin, and higher fat storage.
- In our busy lives, fewer meals are “cooked from scratch”. Busy parents rely on more processed foods and take-away foods. Processing reduces the work the body needs to do to digest foods, so fat storage is easier. Take-away foods provide more fat and carbohydrate than most home-cooked foods, so the problem compounds. Take-aways, fast foods, cafes and the like are everywhere – more-or-less on every corner. Escaping this trap takes a conscious effort.
- “Treats” that happen daily. Think back to the frequency your grandparents would have had treats – it wasn’t often and obesity, when they were young, was almost non-existent. Keep treats for special occasions and look for healthier options for everyday use.
- Children spend less time outdoors and in physical play than in previous generations, so boredom eating has become a problem. Equally, eating (and drinking soft drinks) in front of TV, computer, tablet, gaming means that kids have little focus on the cues their body is giving about hunger and fullness, so overeating becomes an issue.
- Parents are concerned about food waste – espeicially if they’ve cooked the food themselves – and so kids are being told to “clear the plate”. They consequently miss out on developing their sense of appetite or appropriate portion size. Eating when no longer hungry ignores physical needs and relies on serving size to know when enough has been consumed.
- It’s a common idea that carbs are needed to fill kids, especially teenagers, up. Protein and fat do a better job of filling them up, fuelling their bodies, and helping them manage their weight.
Of course, if none of these common problems are responsible, it’s time to discuss the problem with your child’s doctor.