The latest figures released in the US state that 15 percent of children and teenagers are now considered overweight, up from 6% 20 years ago. Statistics in the UK are similar, and rising. Whilst children starve in Africa, kids in the Western world are lining up to suffer a frightening array of weight-related illnesses, including skin and joint problems, early osteoporosis, type II diabetes, bowel cancer, high blood pressure, heart attack and strokes. Recent research also suggests that obese kids are 77% more likely to suffer from asthma.
And of course in a world where TV, movies, teenage sitcoms and advertising all promote the ideal image and the “fat kid” is often mocked and made the butt of all the jokes, many overweight children will increasingly suffer from lack of confidence and poor self-esteem, leading to isolation and possibly depression in their teenage years.
Why do the numbers of overweight children keep going up?
* Portion sizes – at school, restaurants and home – keep growing
* Children have far more choice in what they eat (previous generations ate what they were given, or went hungry)
* Food is much more easily available
* Kids’ drinks, fizzy drinks and so-called “sports” drinks abound
* Many snack foods and junk foods are specially targeted at kids, advertised to kids on TV, of little nutritional value, and far from “filling”. Some nutritionists even suspect that chemical additives can make your child crave more of particular foods
* Fast food outlets have proliferated in recent years and provide cheap, easy meals for time-stretched parents
* Kids expect “instant gratification” in many areas of their lives, including food. Living with hunger pangs – even for an hour – is no longer an option!
* Parents are often setting a bad example
* Children no longer walk or cycle to school – or much at all! Outdoor activities are much less a part of their lives than in previous generations
* Spare time is spent on more sedentary pursuits, such as television, computers and video games, and even “texting”. The latest figures suggest that the average American teenager spends a horrifying 4 to 5 hours a day watching television!
How can we help our overweight child to lose weight?
Firstly, it is important to be aware that there is no magic formula and no instant solution. Your child will not be fit, healthy and the perfect weight overnight! If, however, your child eats sensibly and healthily and increases their physical activities, they will “grow into” their weight.
Secondly, it is vital that any approach you choose does not make your child feel different, guilty, victimised or unhappy in any way. Young children who worry about their weight grow into teenagers with eating disorders.
Thirdly, remember that by “banning” any foods you are likely to create rebellious feelings even in younger children, and disobeying your dictates may even turn into a game (or worse, a shameful secret). You are never going to be able to totally prevent a child from eating what he likes. If you forbid chocolate in your own house, for example, you can be sure your child will be eating it at friends’ houses or at school if he gets half the chance!
Parts 2, 3, 4 and 5 of this article suggest many ideas, tips and tactics for tackling the issues an overweight child faces and encouraging gentle and effective weight loss without damaging your child’s self esteem.