As parents, we want our children to be happy. But sometimes what makes them happy might not necessarily be healthy. Find out how you can strike a balance and prevent obesity in your child.
The number of overweight children in the Middle East and Gulf region has increased dramatically in recent years. In the 1970s the prevalence of childhood obesity in the Middle East was between 4 and 5%. In 2006 this had jumped to 17.6% and in 2008, more than one third of all adolescents and children in the region were obese. The statistics point to a potential healthcare time-bomb for the future, as many lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease are related to the condition. For most children, overweight is the result of unhealthy eating patterns (too many calories) and too little physical activity. Obesity in childhood leads to obesity in adulthood and once eating patterns have been established in childhood, they can be difficult to reverse. Making sure that your child eats a healthy, well-balanced and nutritious diet can directly influence their future good health as adults.
It can be difficult for parents to determine if their child is overweight, as all preschoolers exhibit their own individual body structure and growth pattern. Children grow in unpredictable spurts and because of this, parents should not make changes to a child’s diet based solely on perceptions of overweight. Instead, any assessment of overweight in a child should be undertaken by a health care professional, as they will need to establish the child’s height and weight relative to their previous growth history.
If a health care professional has determined that your child is overweight or obese, they can help you with a healthy eating and exercise regime to help them get back into a weight range that is appropriate for their growth. Weight loss programs are not necessarily a good approach for most young children, as their bodies are still developing. Overweight children should not be put on a diet unless a doctor supervises one for medical reasons – placing a child on a restrictive diet may mean that they may not receive an adequate amount of energy and nutrients needed for normal growth and development. For most young children, this means that the focus should be on maintaining their current weight while they grow normally in height.
The most important strategies for preventing obesity in childhood concentrate on healthy eating behaviour, regular physical activity and reduced sedentary activity (such as watching television and playing computer games). As a parent, you can help prevent your children becoming obese by providing them with healthy meals and snacks, encouraging daily physical activity and educating them about their diet. Healthy meals and snacks provide nutrition for their growing bodies while physical activity will reduce health risks and help with their weight management. Educating your child about nutrition will help them to develop an awareness of healthy eating habits that will last them a lifetime. You can help your child attain their optimum weight for their development by:
The Eatwell Plate is a very useful tool to determine how much of the different categories food your child should be consuming each day. To help you further, the following measure count as one serving:
These serving sizes can be given to 4-6 year-olds. Your 4 year-old should also have a total of 2 servings from the milk group each day.
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