Childhood Obesity
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“My sister’s children are very overweight. Every time I try and broach the subject with her she gets very defensive and says they are ‘healthy’. I am concerned for the children. What can I do to help them?”

You are correct to be concerned about the children. There is now a lot of evidence that shows that the parents of overweight and obese children do not recognise them as being too heavy. Recent studies have also shown that overweight children turn into overweight adults. Apart from the health problems that this can cause, overweight children are often more prone to being bullied and so this leads to a lower self esteem. Overweight adults have more difficulty finding jobs, and when they do find employment, they are often in lower paid jobs that for their thinner counterparts. Added to this, job satisfaction is often lower for these individuals.

It’s important to start getting healthy messages to children early. It’s all too easy to sit them in front of the TV or in front of a computer game with the ‘thumbs twiddling’. By the fact that you asked the question it shows that you are motivated to do something for them. If your sister will let you, why not take the kids for a walk once or twice a week? It doesn’t have to be far, maybe for 30 minutes or so. Another activity that you could try is swimming. It’s fun, it’s active and it helps overall fitness.

Engaging children in activities that they enjoy is what is important, and the key word there is ‘activities’. It’s all about being active. With schools having less playing areas there are fewer opportunities for children to be active. With schools no longer being within walking or cycling distance, or if they are, the increase in traffic making it less safe to walk or cycle, children seem to be getting less exercise these days. Simple things like using the upstairs loo instead of the downstairs one, or using the door that has to be pulled open, rather then the automatic door at the shopping centre. It’s not all about jogging several miles a day or lifting weights or aerobics, but keeping activity levels up that is important.

I haven’t mentioned diet yet, but getting your 5 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per days is just as important for a child as for an adult. A portion is often described as what can be comfortably held in the palm of a hand. Avoiding foods high in fat and sugar can help weight loss, when used sensibly with an increase in activity levels. Another important step is to get them to reduce their intake of fizzy drinks.

If you are still very concerned, however, it may be worth taking a tougher stance with your sister.

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