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The Obesity Crackdown: How to keep your child at a healthy weight

Cheryl Lythgoe, Matron at Benenden Health, provides key recommendations for promoting a healthy lifestyle for your children, to help them fight diseases such as the coronavirus.

Ensure your child eats a balanced diet

This week, Public Health England found that being obese or overweight could put you at greater risk of serious illness, including being more likely to be affected by Covid-19.

In England, one in five children are overweight or obese by the age of 11 and in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland the figure is more than one in four. So, what steps can you take to prevent your children or grandchildren becoming overweight and reduce the associated risks to their health? Here are six ideas from Matron at Benenden Health, Cheryl Lythgoe:

  1. Watch the portion size

Children do not need as much food or as many calories as adults so keep portions small and only give a second serving if the child requests it. Ensure your child eats well at mealtimes by teaching them how to manage their appetite in between meals. It’s important not to force children to eat all the food on their plates but more to eat slowly and learn to listen to when their body tells them it’s full. 

If they eat too many snacks, and then the parent is telling them to finish their large portion size (and the child is eating when they are not hungry), that is a recipe for weight gain. 

  1. Ensure your child eats a balanced diet

Try to make sure everyone eats a balanced diet, with plenty of fresh vegetables to give them the vitamins and minerals they need. It's important that parents have confidence with healthy meal planning. To eat a balanced diet, avoiding sugary foods is key. For example, at breakfast choose wholegrain cereals with milk, or yoghurt and fruit, eggs on toast with a glass of milk – and snacks can be home made, such as no-sugar banana loaf, cheese cubes and carrot or veggie sticks. Offer healthy snacks when they get home from school such as toast or wholegrain crackers with Marmite, cheese, and a glass of milk. Don’t forget the sugars, caffeine, and additives in fizzy drinks – encourage your children to drink water where possible. 

  1. Let your child learn healthy meal planning from a young age.

Young children shouldn’t be encouraged to choose meals, as they won’t necessarily select something that gives them the nutrients they need, but rather support and encourage the skill of meal planning from an early age.  If we ask a young child what they want when doing the food shopping will all too often results in the child asking for sweets or a treat.

However, getting children involved in meal planning and prepping is a great opportunity to teach them about how to combine healthy ingredients. This enables them to understand how to plan and prepare a healthy meal from scratch.  Through learning how to make a healthy pizza for example ensures a child enjoys the foods often considered unhealthy in a healthy managed way and helps them to develop a more positive relationship with food.  Food is one of life’s essentials but can also be a luxury for some therefore it’s imperative to foster a healthy respect for all types of food groups and this can be achieved through supported contact with the whole growing, buying, preparing, presenting and eating of food.

It's not just about food but keeping active

  1. Lead by example

Eating healthy meals and snacks, and taking time to eat mindfully, shows children that it is the norm. Encouraging children to prepare and try new foods whilst cooking is a great way to broaden tastes – they can try something new without putting too much pressure on them. 

 Alternatively, ‘treating’ yourself with sweet or fatty foods – or saying you feel guilty after eating – links food with negative (or similar) emotions, and this can lead children to pick up on habitual emotional eating (such as eating when stressed or worried), which can in turn lead to weight gain. 

  1. Make eating an important time to get together

One in three children eat dinner in front of the television in the UK. This can lead to mindless eating, whereas eating together as a family at the dining table is a great way of keeping an eye on what children are eating and ensuring they learn to love healthy food.

There are lots of ways children can become involved in the kitchen – from measuring and mixing ingredients to setting the table or helping wash up. All of them encourage valuable skills that will stand them in good stead later.

  1. It’s not just about food

As well as watching how you eat, instilling an active lifestyle helps keep the weight from creeping on. Rather than lolling on the sofa, gather children up for a trip to the park – or try one of our six activities to get the family off the sofa.

For more information, or to find out more about how to lead a healthy lifestyle, visit Benenden Health’s ‘Healthy Living Hub’ here: