Childhood obesity: encouraging a healthy lifestyle

Posted on 18 June 2013

If your child has been diagnosed as obese, ensure you show your care and support as active children are more likely to become fit adults, says Dr Marelie Steenekamp, a children’s health specialist at Mediclinic Milnerton .

Tips for maintaining a healthy weight
1. Healthy eating: Parents play a crucial role so even small changes when buying groceries can make a huge difference. Choose fruits and vegetables over convenience foods like cookies, crackers and prepared meals, which are high in sugar and fat. Have healthy snacks available – like fruits, nuts and low-kilojoule protein bars – but never use food as a reward or punishment. Limit sweetened beverages, including some fruit juices, as they provide little nutritional value in exchange for high kilojoules. They also can make your child feel too full to eat healthier foods. At mealtimes, sit together and discourage eating in front of the TV or computer, as this often leads to fast eating and a lowered awareness of how much you’re eating. Try to limit the number of times the family eats fast-foods, as many of the menu options are high in fat and kilojoules.

2. Physical activity: A critical part of weight loss is an increase in physical activity. It burns kilojoules and builds strong bones and muscles, helping children sleep well at night and making them more alert during the day. Establishing these habits in childhood will help adolescents maintain healthy weight despite hormonal changes, rapid growth and social influences that often lead to overeating. To increase your child’s activity level, limit recreational computer and TV time – and other sedentary activities like playing video or computer games, or talking on the phone – to no more than two hours a day. Emphasise activity, not exercise – the object is to get her moving, so find activities she likes to do rather than opt for a rigid exercise programme. Try free-play activities like hide-and-seek, jumping rope or, if she likes to read, then walk or bike to the library for a book. What matters is that you’re doing something active.

Encouragement from parents is vital in helping children who are obese feel loved and in control of their weight, so on your child’s journey, bear the following tips in mind:
•    Use every opportunity to build your child’s self-esteem. Don’t be afraid to bring up the topic of health and fitness, but be sensitive that she may view your concern as an insult. Talk to your kids directly, openly and without being critical or judgmental.
•    Be sensitive to your child’s needs and feelings. Becoming active is an important lifestyle change for your child to make, but she’ll be more likely to stick to those changes if you let her choose what physical activities she’s comfortable with.
•    Find reasons to praise your child’s efforts. Celebrate small, incremental changes, but don’t reward with food! Choose other ways to mark your child’s accomplishments, such as going to the bowling alley or a local park for some fun activity.
•    Talk to your child about her feelings. Help your child find ways to deal with her emotions that don’t involve eating.
•    Help your child focus on positive goals. For example, point out that he or she can now bike for more than 20 minutes without getting tired, or can run the required number of laps in gym class.

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The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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