When it comes to your child's body, the good news is that the focus falls far more on “healthy” than it does on “weight”. Here are the expert’s guidelines to giving children a great headstart in life.
1. It’s a family thing
If your child is overweight, the entire family needs to change their eating habits and lifestyle. “It is unfair, for example, to tell an overweight child that they may not eat certain things, if their siblings are still allowed to eat them,” advises clinical psychologist Cristine Scolari. “Children should never feel that they are being isolated or excluded, therefore healthy eating for children should be supported by healthy eating for the entire family,” adds dietician Shana Terhart.
2. Be a gatekeeper
“Parents are the gatekeepers of what enters the house, what food is bought, which food items are in the cupboard. If you don’t want your child to eat a certain kind of food, don’t keep it in the house,” says dietician Joanna Wilson.
3. Get them involved
“Children learn through involvement. Where possible, involve kids in food preparation and shopping. Use shopping trips and mealtimes to discuss the food being served, what nutrients are being provided and where it is grown,” suggests Wilson.
4. Avoid liquid kilojoules
“Beware of excessive amounts of cordials, fruit juice and carbonated beverages. These add significant [nutritionally empty] energy to a child’s diet. Offer water instead. Make still or sparkling water more interesting by adding chopped fruit or a handful of berries,” says Wilson.
5. Exercise together
“Encourage children to play school sports, rather than join a gym, which can be very isolating for them. Outdoor activities such as hikes, cycling, time spent at the beach, or informal ball games are all great activities to pursue with family and friends,” says Terhart.
Why diets are out
Adult weight-loss programmes (or ‘diets’) are not advised for children, because they are based on decreasing kilojoule intake below the kilojoule usage of the body. Adults need energy for their organs and muscles to work and function. Any excess energy is stored in the form of fat, so decreasing the energy intake prevents extra fat from being stored.
This is, however, not the same for children under the age of 18, says Terhart. “Energy is important for children for their organs to work and function, but also for increases in height and growth, development of organs and muscles and for optimal cognitive function. Therefore the kilojoule needs of children are well above that of adults and decreasing energy intake will result in energy being compromised for height, growth, development and optimal cognitive functioning.”
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