Overweight and Undernourished?

Are we feeding our children the food that they really need for optimal health?

Over the last 20 years, rates of obesity in children have risen in countries all over the world. Children who are overweight may experience feelings of fatigue, worthlessness and may be at greater risk of diabetes and heart disease. What is it that we are doing or not doing for our kids to encourage healthy lifestyles?

The causes of childhood obesity run deep into our fast paced lifestyles. In families eating on the run because of work commitments, fast food, high in fat and sugar content, low in nutritional value, often take the place of balanced, home prepared meals. Eating foods that are not giving us the nutrition that our bodies need to grow and function, sets up the cycle of eating more and more.

The body will keep trying to get its requirements, sugars and fats are stored creating weight gain, yet the body will keep craving for what it needs, thus more eating again. Even here in my small town I find some days I am doing so much that at the end of the day the big question, ‘What is for dinner?’ can be a challenge.

Yes, the lunch box is tricky as well! Inactivity is another problem our youth are facing. Long hours of television and computers have replaced the outside games of the past. Advertising of junk foods influences our children in everyday life. Being aware of what our children are viewing is very important. Kids can begin to crave what they see on television and at the movies. Fast paced living can lead to emotional neglect of our children, which may lead to a pattern of eating for comfort. What can we do to support our children to not get caught in the obesity epidemic?

Weight gain occurs when the energy intake from food and drink exceeds energy output from physical activity. If you suspect there are unresolved functional problems with the child’s metabolism, it is best to consult your doctor or naturopath. Otherwise start by focusing on the child’s positive qualities, encouraging them with love and acceptance and with you, the parent, leading by example, begin to implement the changes that are needed. If children see parents and carers adopting healthy habits they will too.

If your child is overweight, gradually changing the whole family’s eating habits and physical activity will help that child not feel different or wrong. Eliminate any junk food from your shopping trolley. I find it best to write out a week’s shopping list. Planning the week’s meals, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables available, in advance, then only shopping for what is needed for these meals. This way sugary or fatty food is not available in your home.

When I was a child, I would look forward to the once-a-week treat; on Friday night my father would bring home a family block of chocolate, (not the huge ones they have now) and every-one would get a few squares. I learnt to not have sweets every day and I still don’t now. Keep treats as treats, special occasional times, and not every day occurrences. Eating three wholesome, balanced meals a day is very important to weight control.

Skipping meals only sets up the release of cortisol (a hormone) that can lead to insulin resistance, which can then lead to obesity. We need the necessary nutrients for our bodies to function on and get our energy levels off to a good start. So a grounding, wholesome breakfast is vital. Porridge, muesli, fruit and yogurt, whole-grain breads or an egg is better than sugary packet cereals. At lunch serve whole-grain salad sandwiches, rice millet or quinoa salads, slices of chicken, tofu, cold meats with sticks of veggies.

These are just a few ideas. Keep away from too many refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and crisps. Sweets and fizzy drinks do not belong in a lunch box. A piece of fruit, tub of yogurt, some dried fruit and nuts or sugar-free wholesome biscuits or muffins are better.

For dinner, a portion of protein with lots of fresh veg or salad will do. Desserts are not needed every night; if you wish to have dessert search out sugar- fat-free recipes.
Water, water and more water, is what a child’s body needs for hydration and cleansing of body toxins, not fizzy drinks, cordials or too many juices. (See this section in the byronchild June 2006 issue for the weekly family planner and the January issue 2004 for guidelines on diet.) Consult with your school canteen and see that they are following the healthy schools’ canteen policies.

Children should be active every day. Consider limiting television and computer time to a set limit per day or week. Create some outside activities, throwing balls, hoola hoops, skating, good old-fashioned chasing or hide and seek. Don’t forget cricket in the backyard. Inside you can put on music and dance together. For the more adventurous there are some great kids’ yoga videos and books. Using animals to show the poses, they are easy and fun. My family loves our mini trampoline; all of us have a jump on it, even the dog.

Encouraging sports, dance or martial arts are great ways to support your child to learn about their body and keep fit. Check out Capoera, a Brazilian form of martial art. It is a great work-out and fun. I have recently taken up body boarding with my partner and kids; it is another great work-out. Walking or riding a bike, to or part way to school, is also a great way to have more exercise.

Children who are overweight may experience difficulty with social development. Parents may not understand that their child being overweight is really such a problem. It may be considered as a phase that will pass. Yes it may and yet it is better to stop and have a good look at our youth. Have a good talk over a healthy, family meal in the evening, about how our children are really feeling and getting on in life.

Published in Kindred issue 20, December 06

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.