Why is my child overweight/obese?
When a child takes in more energy (from food and drinks) compared to the energy used for growth and daily activity, the excess energy will be stored in the body as fat. Most people will eventually become overweight or obese when they chronically take in more energy than what the body needs. It is something that is usually long term, as excessive weight gain is not something that happens overnight.
But my child eats healthy!
Yes, eating healthy is important. The definition of “healthy food” can have so many different meanings for different families. I am always hearing different opinions about what makes food “healthy”. Is it Organic? Vegan? Gluten free? Sugar free? Preservative free? Natural?
Everyone is entitled to their opinion as to what is “healthy”, but more often than not it is not just the type of food that makes one overweight. It is also the portion that plays a big part on a child’s health.
It is too hard to eat healthy
Healthy eating is not something that you try for a week or for a month like a diet. Healthy eating, should really be part of your everyday lifestyle. I agree that fast food is cheap and convenient. BUT living on diets is not sustainable and therefore not likely to be successful in the long run. Part of healthy eating is having a positive relationship with food, and eating according to your hunger cues: eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are just full.
It is genetics. My child is big because of me (or partner)
Genetics certainly plays a role; there are some children who do have genetic or metabolic disorders that can increase their risk of being overweight or obese. However, genes alone do not explain why the rate of overweight and obesity is increasing at such an alarming rate.
I feel like I am depriving my child when I restrict *junk food / chocolate / lollies, etc*
How much weight my child needs to lose?
A child’s weight is different to an adult’s weight. Children are supposed to grow and gain weight, whereas the weight of a healthy adult should remain idle. For this reason, I do not recommend that children should lose weight. Rather, allow your child to grow into their weight by allowing their height to catch up to their current weight.
Why does it matter? As long as my child is happy, that’s the most important thing.
Ultimately, children who are overweight have a very high chance of being overweight as an adult. As a parent, you can make a difference! Here are somethings you can try right now at home:
- Next time your child has a meal, watch and see if the portion is appropriate for their age.
- Use this calculator to work out how much your child needs in a day https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/node/add/calculator-servings .
- Using the above calculator, fuel up your child’s body with what they need to grow well. Discretionary food is not something the body needs on a daily basis.
- Start moving more! Decrease time spent in front of a screen, and get up and about as a family. Choose to buy a bike as a Christmas present instead of an iPad. Go out for walks in parks instead of sitting in front of the TV.
- Be a role model. Pay attention to having better, nutritious food for the family. Make sure there are fruits and vegetables that are readily accessible to your family. Have fruits as dessert for something sweet to finish the meal.
- Eat your vegetables. You as a parent are responsible for what is served at a meal. Your child should be eating the same family meal as you are. So if you are not eating vegetables at every lunch and dinner, make it a point to serve some vegetables for the whole family to enjoy as part of a meal.
- If your child is full, trust them. Don’t force your child to finish everything that is on their plate. Allow your child to eat according to their hunger cues. BUT be careful not to offer something that they like (example: ice-cream or cake) after the meal because you feel like they haven’t had enough food. Re-present the unfinished meal if they are hungry.
Remember, your role as a parent is to provide your child with nutritious food and to make sure they grow well. If you would like to learn more about healthy eating and weight management, speak to an accredited practising dietitian who has experience working with children. Contact us if you would like to speak to me about how to manage your child’s weight, or how to get your child to build a positive relationship with food.
Shu-Lin Pook is a Paediatric Dietitian at Hopscotch & Harmony. She supports the nutritional needs for children, from infancy through adolescence. She understands that management of complex food allergies/food intolerances can often be difficult, and also works with young people who have prior negative feeding experiences, autism, or poor/negative body image.