With over a third of school-aged children dangerously overweight or obese, obesity is an increasingly significant issue for the younger generation. Therefore, encouragement of a healthy and balanced diet is an effective way to reduce obesity in this population and, with simple lifestyle changes, can be easily achieved.
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The Dangers of Childhood Obesity
A child with a body mass index (BMI) equal to or higher than the top nine percent of children of the same age and sex is classified as obese. A child with a BMI equal to or higher than the top two percent of his/ her peers is classified as morbidly obese.
Obesity is very dangerous at any age, with an increased risk of developing high blood-pressure, asthma, type 2 diabetes and a variety of cardiovascular diseases.
In particular, individuals who are obese at a younger age are more likely to stay obese as adults, and therefore are at a higher risk of developing serious health problems later on in life, as well as premature death.
Excess weight can also significantly affect mental health, with obese children more likely to experience poor psychological and emotional health and impaired sleep.
Childhood Obesity: The impact of nutrition on health
Children’s Nutritional Requirements
Nutrition for children is more or less based on the same principles as nutrition for adults, with a balanced diet containing a mixture of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fat.
This can be achieved by eating foods from each of the core food groups. For example, potatoes, cereals and other grains are a good source of carbohydrate. Fruits and vegetables provide the essential vitamins and minerals, while dairy products, such as milk or cheese are good sources of fat and calcium. Foods like meat, eggs, fish and beans are rich in protein.
A combination of the main food groups is necessary for efficient growth and development in children and should ideally be paired with an active lifestyle.
Tips for Healthy Eating
Children need a healthy, balanced diet that gives them enough energy to grow and develop. However, if a child is obese, this may mean that the child could be taking in more energy than needed, causing excess weight gain. However, it may not always be this simple, as there may also be a genetic component involved. Nonetheless, obesity in children may be tackled through lifestyle changes, and simple dietary alterations, which can have a big impact on overall development.
Five Portions of Vegetables and Fruits a Day
Children, like adults, should aim to eat five different types of fruit and vegetable each day to provide them with the essential vitamins and minerals that they need. However, ready-made fruit juices and smoothies can contain very high amounts of sugar, which increases the risk of weight gain or tooth decay, and so should be consumed within reason. Low-sugar fruits, such as berries or watermelon are good alternatives and can be eaten plainly as snacks or added to yogurt/blended as a smoothie.
A very high sugar intake is one of the major causes of childhood obesity. According to the NHS, in a day, children obtain more than 50% of their sugar intake from sweetened drinks and unhealthy snacks. Healthier choices include semi-skimmed milk or unsweetened fruit juice to drink and high protein snacks like nuts or chicken drumsticks. Ideally, children should be allowed a maximum of 2 snacks a day containing no more than 100 calories each.
Although it is difficult to estimate exactly how much children should eat at meal times, it is important to remember that an adult-size portion may encourage a child to eat more than they require. Using smaller plates can help to reduce this, as can starting meals with smaller portions and adjusting when necessary.
Make Healthy Eating Fun
Children can often be picky when it comes to eating healthier foods like fruit and vegetables, so involving them in the planning and preparing of meals can make this more interesting and fun, encouraging better behavior. Eating healthy meals together as a family also sets a good example, and teaching children about food and nutrition can further encourage them to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Due to the significant health implications of obesity, it is crucial that this problem is prevented early-on in life. This can be achieved with a varied and healthy diet, which should ideally be paired with an active lifestyle. With some encouragement, even the fussiest of children can adopt a healthy and sufficient diet.