About a third of children in the UK are overweight, increasing their risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and joint problems in adulthood. Here are some hints to prevent yours from piling on the pounds:
1. Be slim yourself. Easier said than done, I know. But the point here is that you’re your child’s main role model, so if you eat healthily and lead an active life, your offspring are more likely to do the same. If you eat junk, they’ll eat junk; if you slump on the couch eating chocolates, so will they. You get the picture. Plus, research has shown that babies born to overweight mothers are more likely to be overweight themselves.
2. Get them to eat the same food as you. Rather than preparing fish fingers and chips or pizza for your kids, and then rustling up a salad for yourself, sit down to family meals where you all eat the same. You can do that from the age of two onwards. And make sure you all get your five a day. In fact, make that seven a day – experts are revising their quantities upwards.
3. Make your kids ask for more. Don’t supersize your kids’ portions. Serve up a small amount (on a smaller plate) and get them to come back – Oliver Twist-style – for seconds if they’re still hungry.
4. Crack the snack habit. Snacks tends to high in fat and sugar (think sweets, cakes, biscuits). Supply your mini muncher with fruit instead, and keep to regular mealtimes.
5. Forget the fizz. Not only are fizzy drinks full of calories but they’re also stuffed with sugar. Children aged four to ten get 16% of their daily sugar intake from soft and fizzy drinks. Try to cultivate an H20 habit instead.
6. Get the little darlings moving. Children need 60 minutes of physical activity a day – broken down into chunks if you like. But, clearly, sitting in front of the telly or playing computer games doesn’t count. Active play or taking part in a sport they enjoy are ideal and, if you’re fit as a family – walking to school, going on cycle rides or hiking – then even better.
7. Plant a vegetable garden. This kills two birds with one stone – you’ll involve your children in growing part of your healthy diet, and at the same time the physical exercise you’ll all get from weeding, digging and planting will build strength and burn calories. What’s not to like?
8. Be anti antibiotics. Weirdly, American research looking at nearly 65,000 children under five showed that the more broad-spectrum antibiotics children consumed before the age of two, the more likely they were to become obese in early childhood.
9. Get them off to bed. There’s a strong link between lack of sleep and childhood obesity. One study using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children which followed nearly 2,000 children from the Bristol area found that children who slept the least at ages five and six had a 60-100% risk of being obese by the time they were 15. Now there’s a stat to put an instant end to all arguments about going to bed at the appointed hour!