Childhood Obesity: The modern epidemic that can be prevented

Until a few years ago, childhood obesity was not a problem of public health in Greece and Europe in general. In the last decade, several organisations have recorded the obesity rates in Greek children. The Hellenic Medical Association for Obesity, the Department of Science of Nutrition and Dietetics of Harokopio University and the Hellenic Institute of Nutrition conclude in the same worryingly results: 1 in 4 children has increased weight.

 

Παιδική παχυσαρκία: Η σύγχρονη επιδημία που μπορούμε να αντιμετωπίσουμε

When assessing these results along with the effects of increased weight on health as adults, we clearly see the extent of the problem. Studies show that an obese teenager is at increased risk for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, type II diabetes, various types of cancer, etc. Indeed, deviation from normal laboratory values often starts since childhood. It seems that 7% of children has high levels of blood cholesterol.

The problem, of course, is due to the stimuli the child receives and relate to its diet. Initially, the model of the parent. Usually, an overweight parent will “create” an overweight child. Then, food industries come in, with their continuous production of food appealing to the child's taste but not to its health, the TV advertisements etc. 

Addressing the problem must begin with its detection. Many parents do not recognize the fact that their child is overweight. Evaluation should be made with the aid of BMI diagrams. More information, as well as diagrams, can be found at the website http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/childrens_bmi/about_childrens_bmi.html

In the next phase, the involvement of the parent is essentially required. It is the phase when the parent needs to set the example.  Therefore, the child is more likely to succeed, while the parent will also enjoy the benefits of a good and healthy diet. In most cases, one or both parents are overweight! You should, therefore, focus on the following:

  • Try to eat with your children as often as possible. So, your children will see you eating a variety of healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain cereals, etc.
  • Teach your children to recognize the feeling of hunger and to eat only on those specific hours. Set the good example. Do not eat when watching TV; do not consume food during the day because “it's there”.
  • Do not eat until you have “cleaned” your plate. Eat until you are satisfied. You do not need to feel you are “bursting”. Ask your children to do the same and stop making them empty their plates.
  • Try to have ready-to-eat fruits, vegetables and whole grain crackers in conspicuous places on the table, in the fridge or cupboard. So, your child will pick and consume them itself.
  • Make sure everybody eats breakfast. Try to have quick options available, such as wholegrain cereals, yoghurt, peeled fruits, semi-skimmed milk and 100% freshly squeezed juice.
  • When the time is right, allow your children to consume their favourite goodies. At the same time, collaborate with them to make a list of healthy snacks that you can have at home. Post the list on the fridge or anywhere your children can see it.

 

For children, eating sweet treats is part of their diet. It is an indulgence, which if excluded, can cause stronger cravings. However, remember that they are sweet treats. Offer them less frequently and in reasonable quantities.

Set the good example yourselves. Sometimes, treats are necessary, but do not go over the top. The following suggestions will help you choose the right quantities for children.

  • Buy small packages - portions of crisps and biscuits. If you cannot find any, share them on your own in other small portions in bags.
  • When you are eating at a restaurant or a tavern, share the fries, sausage or dessert among the family.
  • Serve soft drinks in small kids' glasses.
  • Buy ice creams and wafers in the form of small bars.
  • Let your children watch you while you are occasionally consuming small portions of goodies.

 

Introduce physical activity to your routine as a counterweight to goodies and eating “excesses”. Regular exercise can contribute to the formation of muscle tissue and the increase of metabolic rate. In this way, weight control becomes easier. Moreover, regular exercise can provide better health, socialisation and normal development. Indeed, when exercise takes place within the family, it can offer particularly pleasant moments, free of tension and concerns, something that is necessary for both the parent and child.

Finally, your goal should be to attract the interest of the child on this issue. It is often not required, since the child has already thought about it before we even detect the problem. In any case, you should be emphatic, but without panicking the child. Inform your child and show it that you can try together to become better!

 

To sum up, the steps you need to follow are the following:

Start with self-control. Initially, make sure that you personally have started making steps towards a healthier lifestyle. Your children are continuously watching you. It's easier to catch your child's attention on an issue, if you are the shining example.

Make a big deal of this discussion. Stay alone with the children. Turn the television off. Do not answer the phone. In this way, you will show them the significance of the topic you are referring to. For even better results, make this conversation while walking.

Build on the positive actions of the child. Reward good habits of the child rather than focusing on the negative ones. Congratulate good choices and make a small step every time.

Focus on the current benefit. Long-term benefits of good health probably do not intrigue the child. So, it is better to refer to other benefits, such as more energy for school, sports and playing. These are more powerful incentives to the child's mind.

Try all together. Results are much better, when the family as a group is trying to eat properly, be active, and eventually improve its health and mood. During family meals, reward those who make the best effort and ask everyone to give ideas for the improvement of everyone.

Advice

The nutritional information and recommendations on infant-toddler diet are indicative and refer to general guidance for this age group. Time that every child can be introduced to solid foods or add more to it’s diet, must be individualized. We recommend to set advise from your pediatrician about the specific nutritional needs of your child.