By Shu-Lin Pook, Paediatric Dietitian
25% of children in Australia are either overweight or obese, and although the proportion of children getting bigger has remained stable, it is still 1 in every 4 children that is either overweight or obese. Weight management is not easy, and for a lot of families, it can be an unfavourable experience. Here are some of the statements or questions I tend to get when I see a child who has weight issues:
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*
Parents sometimes feel guilty for not providing their chid with discretionary food (food high in energy with very little nutrition). Remember, you are not depriving your child of love from not giving them discretionary food. There are many other ways and means to provide your child with love. It can be riding a bike together or going to the beach as a family and enjoy the time spent together. Think of food as something to nourish your child’s body rather than a treat or a reward.
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.
Unfortunately, it DOES matter. When a child carries too much weight, complications can occur. Medical complications such as developing fatty liver, diabetes, having sleep issues, respiratory issues (e.g. exacerbation of asthma), and pain in joints are just some of the complications. What about the psychological impact? Well, children who are overweight/obese are more likely to develop lower self-esteem, depression, negative body image, be discriminated against, and so forth.
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:
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.