With advent of technology, our physical activity is declining constantly. Simultaneously, our consumption of high-calorie and non-nutritious food has risen. The result is a majority of population struggling with obesity and its related diseases. This trend has especially impacted the health of children across the world.
Obesity unchecked in children can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, early heart disease, diabetes, bone problems, skin conditions such as fungal infections and acne. And let’s not forget the obesity-related social problems like low self-esteem, depression, social stigmatisation and poor social skills.
To know if your child is obese, you can consult a doctor who will measure your child’s height and weight and compute his/her BMI or body mass index to compute this value to standard values. Factors like your child’s age and growth patterns are also considered.
So how can you help your child be healthy and safe from obesity-related diseases?
- Start with yourself: If you are a physically active parent who eats nutritious, controlled portions of food, your child is likely to follow your example.
- Family workouts: Plan family activities such as walking, swimming, trekking or any favourite sport. An activity where the whole family works out together is inspiring and ensures everyone is exercising.
- Be realistic and sensitive: if your child is obese, don’t expect him/her to indulge in a physical activity that is too difficult or uncomfortable. Encourage activities he/she enjoys.
- Limit screen time: TV viewing and playing video games are sedentary activities that are addictive and can eat away your time. Do not let your child eat while watching TV because it does not allow him to pay attention to the taste or quantity of food he is eating. It blocks the feeling of satisfaction as our brain is focussed on other things. Research also shows that we all tend to eat sugary and junk food while watching TV, which leads to weight gain. A mealtime should be a time for family bonding, which is also deteriorating today.
- Store the right food: If you are going to keep a stock of ice-creams, chips and microwavable junk food, you are just making your life difficult. Choose to buy healthy food. Stock on vegetables and fruits of all colours: red (beets, tomatoes), orange (carrots, squash), yellow (potatoes, bananas), green (lettuce, broccoli). Cook more at home as you can control the quality and quantity of ingredients.
- Don’t skip breakfast, ever: Research has repeatedly shown that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Children who skip this meal are more likely to be overweight or obese than those who eat their breakfast daily. However, a good breakfast doesn’t imply sugary cereals, donuts, juice or white bread. Choose healthy foods like oatmeal, fresh fruit, whole grain cereal high in fibre and low in sugar, and low-fat milk.
- Be a sugar spy: Even though you may have cut down on your child’s candies and desserts, sugar is omnipresent. It is hiding in bread, canned soups and vegetables, pasta sauce, margarine, frozen dinners, low-fat meals, fast food, and ketchup. Your body does not need more sugar than what it derives from sugar naturally occurring in food. Learn the names of different kinds of sugar and check the labels for them before you buy. Even better, just stick with fresh produce.
- More water, smaller portions: Encourage your family to drink lots of water as it flushes out toxins, carries nutrients to cells and regulates body functions. Keeping hydrated eliminates a false feeling of hunger. You should also ensure smaller portions during meals. One of the causes of obesity is much bigger portions of food being served at restaurants and at home.
- Be disciplined about mealtimes: Eating food at random hours confuses and wreaks havoc on our system. Children love routine and when you give them food only at a certain time, they will eat what they get.
- Eat out occasionally: Eating out is special if you do it on special occasions. So choose to eat out occasionally, avoid fast food and make healthy choices.
Obesity is a worldwide phenomenon and as parents we can and must address it in time. With just a few lifestyle changes and determination, you can prevent obesity in your child or address it before it permeates into adulthood. As Leigh Hunt said, “The groundwork of all happiness is health.” So if you can teach your children how to be healthy today, you essentially ensure their happiness for all times to come.