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Kris Appleby

"HealthyAlternativesNZ"

According to the New Zealand Medical Journal 1 in 10 New Zealand children aged between 5-14 years are considered obese, and a further 20% are considered overweight.

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Our Obese Kiwi Kids

Friday, October 28th 2011 @ 1:19 PM    post viewed 1435 times

According to the New Zealand Medical Journal 1 in 10 New Zealand children aged between 5-14 years are considered obese, and a further 20% are considered overweight.

The major drivers of the increase in obesity rates have been changing dietary and physical activity patterns, reflecting an environment that promotes the over-consumption of energy-dense foods and drinks and limits the opportunities for physical activities.

An international study also helped prove a link between a mother's diet during pregnancy and the risk of childhood obesity.  The study, led by Southampton University and including New Zealand researchers, shows for the first time that a mother's diet during pregnancy can alter the function of her child's DNA and can lead to children having a tendency to "lay down" more fat.

Obese children are likely to be obese into adulthood.  Obesity is associated with a long list of adult health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes, type 2 diabetes, various types of cancer, and psychological and social problems.

While there are a number of government funded programmes such as the Ministry of Health’s Healthy Eating, Healthy Action (HEHA) initiative and Fruit in Schools aimed at reducing these statistics, a multi-pronged approach is essential; parents, caregivers, schools, community leaders and other caring adults have the opportunity to shape children's eating and activity habits.

So what can you do? Whilst “dieting” is not recommended it is important to start dealing with the problem sooner rather than later. The longer poor eating patterns and/or low activity levels are left unchecked, the harder they will be to correct.

It is important however that the problem is dealt with as a family rather than placing all the focus on the child. Generally speaking, it is not the child who is responsible for buying or preparing the food, so healthy options should be bought in for the whole family. The child with the weight problem should not be left to feel that they are the only one who has the problem.

It is also a positive idea to talk about improved health rather than just focusing on the child's weight. Focus on improved energy levels or better exercise tolerance for the whole family. This may help to avoid or reduce the negative feelings that the child may have about his or her body image.

Lastly, the importance of exercise cannot be underestimated. Regular exercise is a vital habit to start in childhood. Again it should be a family project not just focusing on one child. Don’t forget that if your child is quite large or if they have not done much exercise the idea of doing exercise as part of a team sport may seem very daunting for them. This is where doing things initially as a family can be very important. Things like walks, bike rides, going to the park, and kicking a ball around are all important. Setting limits on the television, computer and play station may be necessary. Considering TV-free days for the whole family may be appropriate so that the child does not feel that they are the only one with new limits imposed.

The other good news is three surprisingly simple family habits can help kids maintain a healthy weight. Practicing even one can trim risk for obesity by 25 percent, a recent study found, while adopting all three shrinks risk by 40 percent.

Dine Together. “Children who eat dinner with their parents at least five times a week tend to weigh less and have healthier eating habits,” says Goutham Rao, MD, clinical director of the weight management centre at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and author of Child Obesity: A Parent’s Guide to a Fit, Trim, and Happy Child (Prometheus Books, 2006).  “When families eat together, meals are typically healthier than when the child just grabs food on the run without adult supervision.”

Turn Off the Tube.  “Having meals in front of the TV encourage mindless overeating,” explains Dr. Rao. “When the TV is off, there’s discussion about what the family is eating, which teaches kids about good nutrition.” Also consider unplugging the tube for a week, advises Dr. Rao. “Research suggests that when you turn it back on a week later, your child will be less interested in the shows.” Instead of vegging out in front of the tube, take an after dinner walk to boost family fitness. The American Academy of Paediatrics advises no more than two hours a day of quality programs for older children, while kids under two shouldn’t watch TV at all.

Make Sure Kids Get Enough Sleep. Skimping on Z’s is linked to obesity in both kids and adults worldwide, research shows. “A tired child is less physically active, so burns fewer calories,” says Dr. Rao. “Also, levels of cortisol are higher in children who don’t get enough sleep. There’s some evidence cortisol stimulates appetite, which could contribute to obesity.” In the healthy habit study, four-year-olds who snoozed at least 10.5 hours a night had lower rates of obesity. Dr. Rao recommends 10 hours a night for older kids, and at least eight for teens.

Little changes can make a big difference.  In my house we’ve also moved towards helping the children to be conscious of their food choices.  You remember being told “you can’t leave the table if you haven’t finished everything on your plate”?  or how about “there are starving children in Africa who would love what you are leaving behind on your plate.  I no longer serve up the children’s meals, thus imposing my ideas of how much they should eat onto them.  I leave them to decide how much they think they can manage, and I encourage them to take less and go back for seconds if required.  Already I’m noticing the difference in how much food we consume in a meal, and they have grasped the concept well.  They are becoming mindful in their consumption, and aware of when that when they are satisfied, they stop eating;  not when their plates are empty – although these days this means one and the same.

Links and readings:

http://socialreport.msd.govt.nz/health/obesity.html

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/4902690/NZ-research-links-child-obesity-to-mothers-diet< /span>

http://www.arphs.govt.nz/publications_reports/archive/Child_Obesity/Childhood_Obesity.pdf

http://www.kiwifamilies.co.nz/Topics/Celebrity-Columns/Fiona+Boyles+Column/Childhood+Obesity.html

http://www.healthymagination.com/blog/3-healthy-family-habits-to-prevent-childhood-obesity/

http://www.preventdisease.com/news/11/100311_Obesity-Convenience-Why-Most-Childrens-Daily-Caloric-I ntake-Is-Unhealthy.shtml 

 

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