Childhood obesity is at pandemic proportions. Does this sound drastic?
Im not sure of the facts and figures ( I used to be), but I am stating this just by looking around me at the local shopping mall. If I recall correctly, and I am open to correction here, the top countries for childhood obesity until recently were, in no particular order, the USA, UK, China and South Africa. This is shocking, if you consider that they are all what we would consider ” sporty countries”, the first three having an extremely good showing at the Olympics, and SA always in the top rankings of major team sports.
What is going wrong?
If I look around me at the mall, the majority of the children I see are most definitely overweight, quite a few are obese. Chubby babies are lovely and healthy, theres nothing cute about a 9 year old who weighs more than I do. Teenage boys already sporting a belly, pretty young girls with the ever present “muffin-top”. Who’s to blame?
The media is often hauled over the coals for contributing to poor body image, especially amongst girls. Celebrities are chastised for being too thin, then made fun of and crucified if they gain weight, like Lady Gaga who was recently hauled over the coals for a very paltry weight gain that, quite frankly, just made her look like the rest of us normal folk. It’s hard to keep a happy medium.
It has become politically incorrect to use the words “fat”, “obese”, etc, and we must replace them with euphemisms in order not to offend. But what about the skinny? Someone I know recently lost a respectable amount of weight. Comments ranged from “too thin” (no, he used to be overweight), “are you ill?” (no, this is what normal and healthy looks like), to “don’t lose any more” (actually, he still had a bit to go), and ” you’d better stop what you’re doing” (what, stop getting healthy?). No wonder the kids don’t know if they’re coming or going.
So I guess that leaves it up to us, the adults. As much as it riles modern society, the fact of the matter is, children need to be guided. They cannot be allowed to make their own choices when it comes to food. What child is going to choose a healthy low fat meal instead of fast food? Fruit instead of fries? Water instead of fizzy drinks?
In the formative years, parents have the responsibility of guiding and educating their children to make the correct choices in life, this includes food. Society is way too obsessed with allowing children to make their own choices, allowing them to become their own person. Well, if you want to allow your children to become obese adults with type 2 diabetes and heart disease, by all means, go ahead. Just don’t blame McDonalds, your doctor or anyone else. Take responsibility for the lessons YOU instilled in your child. Research will back me up here when I say that overweight children go on to become overweight adults.
What if your child has already passed the top end of the acceptable weight range? Well, do something! A trip to your GP would be your first step. They can determine if the child is healthy, or if there’s an underlying condition. They can also recommend a dietician who specializes in childhood weight problems. No, your child is not going to like to diet any more than the rest of us do. But it needs to be done. It can be made easier if the whole family changes to the new eating plan, Calorie intake can be adjusted for the individual members.
Don’t make them feel to be the odd one out. Explain that as a family, you are going to be focussing on becoming more healthy, that means eating healthily, and getting some activity in every day. Don’t mention the word DIET. Even young children have a negative connotation to the word. Don’t be overly critical of their weight, or yours. Lead by example.
Encourage physical activity every day. Christmas gifts can be actual, real, sport equipment, instead of a console that they can play sport on! Mini cricket, football or basketball are popular and can easily be played in a back yard or local park. All kids love bicycles. Allow them to try out various sports until they find what they like to do, be it ballet or baseball. People are more likely to stick to activities they enjoy.
Set up a rewards system. Just like adults, children need to know their sacrifice is appreciated. New trainers, a trip to the movies or a cool new outfit at certain milestones serve as both motivation and reward.
Get involved. Do not be the “managing the crisis at a distance” parent. It is your child, not your employee. Let them know that they matter so much to you, that you will walk this journey with them until the end. Join in the activities, adjust your eating habits too, learn together about how to live a healthy life. Motivate and support each other.
At the end of the day, your health is YOUR responsibility. Your child’s health is too, as they cannot be held responsible for something when they don’t know better. Don’t look back one day and say “I should’ve done this”, or “I shouldn’t have done that”. Do what’s right and do it now.
After all, as my Grandpa used to say, ” A glutton is not born, a glutton is created.”