Children and diets

Posted on 8 June 2017

Childhood obesity is on the rise – but should children ever be put on a diet? Our expert has the answer.

If obesity in South African children continues to increase at its current rate, 3.91 million school children will be overweight within the next eight years, states the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa. The positive spin-off is that incorrect food choices and inactive lifestyles are largely to blame – which puts the solution firmly in our own hands.

Be positive

Cornel Joubert, a dietician in private practice at Mediclinic Potchefstroom says a healthy lifestyle needs to start with the parents or caregivers, because children follow by example. ‘Children cannot make healthy choices on their own.’

She adds that positive reinforcement is key when helping children to slim down. ‘Focus on words and actions that indicate positive behaviour. For example, explain that eating a fresh fruit a day is a healthy food choice that will make one feel good.’

Be the change

Parents must set an example by eating healthily and having a healthy relationship with food, says Cornel. If parents don’t eat vegetables, their children won’t eat them either. The same applies to fruit, healthy fats, lean proteins and other fibre-rich foods such as pulses.

Eyes off the scale

Cornel cautions that a child’s weight shouldn’t become an obsession, because this can cause problems down the line. She recommends only occasional weigh-ins that allow children ‘to grow into their weight’.

Easy tips

Cornel suggests these practical ways to make sure children eat healthily:

  • Ensure that there is a routine for meals in your home.
  • Offer water as a drink to satisfy thirst.
  • Limit sweet or savoury treats. They should be offered only occasionally, not daily ­– and then only after a meal.
  • Don’t put cookies, cakes, biscuits and crisps on children’s eye level on the shelf – or don’t buy them at all.
  • Don’t give children sole access to the food cupboard and fridge.
  • Pack a healthy lunchbox instead of giving them money to buy food at the tuck shop.
  • Offer food, drinks and condiments in moderation at all times.

Turn off the TV

Cornel attributes weight gain in children to the wide availability of energy-dense snacks and drinks – and adds that inactivity because of technology also plays a role. Encourage your children to play outside or participate in sports – it could help them to slim down and feel more confident.

Get support

If parents need support to change their own lifestyles first, a dietician can offer structured eating plans that will help them draw up healthy grocery lists and avoid falling into the junk food trap. But sometimes all we need is to remember the good old-fashioned nutrition advice we were reared on, and spend time making healthy meals at home. Encourage your children to help prepare meals and learn the basics of healthy cooking, which will stand them in good stead when they leave the nest.


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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