The ChildHood Obesity Surveillance Initiative is a HSE report released this May, in conjunction with UCD’s National Nutrition Surveillance Centre. It stated that one in five children in Ireland and overweight or obese, leaving them open to a host of weight related illnesses and health complications including diabetes, high blood pressure and breathing problems such as asthma.
This is a terrifying state of affairs and as parents, it is up to us to step in and protect our children from the risks caused by excess weight gain. The problem is, even if we’re quite healthy ourselves, we tend not to always follow suit with our kids. It comes from a place of love, not cruelty. We want them to have what they want, rather than insisting they have what they need. And too much of this can lead to childhood obesity and potentially a lifetime struggle with food, weight and health issues.
Here are our tips on how to keep your kids healthy without causing a big fuss at home:
Focus On Food
Nutrition is the cornerstone in the fight against childhood obesity. Both what your kids eat and how much of it they eat are essential components in maintaining a healthy weight.
- Your kids can generally only eat what you dish up. By cutting down their portion sizes to that appropriate to their age, you can make a big difference to their health.
- All kids snack, and in the younger ones this grazing behaviour is actually essential. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar every time. Check out our fun food swaps for inspiration:
- Add tasty fresh fruit chunks in place of sugar to wholegrain breakfast cereal.
- Try low sugar and salt baked beans, after a couple of days they’re the new normal.
- Swap cheese and crackers for low fat cheese spread on rice cakes. Add slices of apple for an even tastier healthy treat.
- Swap crisps for air popped popcorn.
- Swap sugary, fatty deserts for low fat Greek yoghurt and chopped fruit. You can make this feel extra naughty by crumbling a mini meringue over the top or a tiny drizzle of good quality honey.
- Swap spaghetti carbonara for spaghetti with a tomato based sauce.
- Experiment with healthier natural sweeteners such as stevia, maple syrup and blackstrap molasses in place of sugar when you cook.
Make Fitness Fun
The second part of the fight against childhood obesity comes from how much we can get our kids to move. Our lives have become progressively more sedentary and kids now have more screen time than ever before. So, how can you get your kids off the sofa?
- Play with them: Lead by example and get them out into the nearest park or your garden with you to kick/throw a ball or frisbee about. Simple is often best as even 20 minutes mucking about with Mam and Dad will make all the difference.
- Swim with them: Most younger kids love the water and if you make swimming a regular part of your family routine, they’re less likely to drop it when they hit the awkward self-conscious teenage years.
- Join a gym: Find a fitness club like Gym Plus Ashbourne, Drogheda, Naas, Rathfarnham or Swords that can offer Family Fitness and Teen Fitness classes. Going somewhere special and being surrounded by their peers makes it more of a fun occasion, rather than something to slink away from after 5 minutes. You can swim with your kids at these clubs too. Kids under 16 can join for just €55 a year!
- Get walking: Cars are so convenient, we often miss valuable exercise opportunities when we bundle our kids in the back and head off to the shops or wherever. Try leaving your car keys on the hall table and getting the whole family to walk to wherever you want to go locally.
Get Real about Childhood Obesity
Ideally, you should be able to gently encourage your kids into healthier habits without getting into a fight. But some children are just ferociously stubborn and won’t respond to any sort of enticement no matter how fun you make healthy food and fitness seem. With these kids, it’s time to get real.
Talk to them about the reality of obesity related illnesses and bring the consequences to life for them. Get them to imagine how different their life would be if they suffered from these illnesses. If the carrot isn’t working, then a glass of cold water to the face is actually a kindness in the long run.