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Childhood Obesity: How Can Grown-Ups Help?

What can parents who are worried about their child becoming obese do to help them lose weight or indeed prevent them becoming overweight in the first place?
Here are some answers:

Childhood obesity begins in the womb:
The seeds of childhood obesity can be sown when the child is developing in his mother’s womb. The environment within the womb can predispose a child’s body cells to store extra fat, leading to modifications in the child’s metabolism that can result in insulin resistance. Just as the normal population in general, pregnant woman can manage their weight and prevent putting on too much weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise. In fact, they are encouraged to do so. Children born of women who do regular physical activity as much as 20 min/day (even if they are overweight) have a lower birth weight than those who don’t.

The role of diet and exercise:
Although other factors play crucial roles, it is inevitable that, in many cases, childhood (and indeed adulthood) obesity is due to 2 main causes; eating too much food, specifically high sugar and high fat foods and not doing enough exercise. The issue is that adults bear the responsibility for their own weight problems due to the lifestyle choices that they decide for themselves. However, the main cause of childhood obesity is much more complex and is partly driven by family and environmental influences. Children must be involved in effective childhood obesity program including sports and physical game-based activities, as well as counseling sessions on diet and unhealthy behaviors. Since the home environment influences children’s health behaviors, parents must be role models to their children. So, parents have a unique position to promote and support behavior change in their families.

How you as a parent can help your child fight or avoid obesity?
•Encourage physical activity by encouraging your kids to participate in sports. Also set an example, by walking, cycling, swimming or playing ball with your kids.
•Be alert of what your kids are eating. Make sure you know what the kiosk at school is selling. More importantly, give your kids healthy food at home.
•Reduce sedentary time by limiting their screen time. This also applies during mealtimes. Promote conscious eating by turning off the TV, radio and computer during meals or snack times. Children who snack while watching TV eat more than children who eat their snack at the table.
•Create a healthy community by letting your family and friends know you are creating a healthy environment for your kids and ask them to support this.
•Let them sleep adequately! Kids who get fewer than the recommended number of hours of sleep are at higher risk for being overweight. Children usually need about 10 hours of sleep every day.
•Avoid using sweets and treats as a reward. Kids crave our attention and approval more than any treat we can imagine. A big hug at the end of the day can be just as satisfying as a box of chocolate.
•Spend quality time as a family eating together. Lead by example as kids learn to make good food choices by watching their parents.
•Avoid teasing kids about their weight. Focus on healthy, positive lifestyle changes and make sure they don’t relate their self-worth to body size.

So, what is it important to know for grown-ups?
It’s something of a cliché, but true; prevention is better than cure. Women who are pregnant or planning to start a family have a pre-advantage. A healthy diet and exercise program will not only benefit their unborn child, but will also reduce their own risk of developing a number of complications, including miscarriage, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. The most important environment for a child, especially when very young, is the family. Children tend to eat what their parents eat, so a family adoption of a healthy diet and lots of exercise is a very good step forward, particularly as weight problems are likely to run in families, with overweight children often having overweight parents and other relatives.

Christelle Bedrossian
Dietitian-Nutritionist
Beirut, Lebanon

 

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Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian