In Singapore, the incidence of being overweight/obesity amongst school children is 11%. Being overweight increases the risk of many diseases, which has been detected in increasing numbers of obese teenagers in recent years, including hypertension (high blood pressure), type II diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), obstructive sleep apnea, fatty liver and joint problems. In adulthood, they would also be at risk of heart diseases, strokes and certain cancers.
A child is considered overweight when his weight is 20% or more above his ideal weight for height. As a parent, you play an important rolein helping your child manage their weight. If you suspect your child is overweight, have it checked out before he develops any medical conditions associated with being overweight. It is important that you see a paediatrician, who can assess your child’s history of weight gain and growth pattern.
Generally, becoming overweight is the result of consuming more calories than the body needs, resulting in the unused energy being stored as body fat. This could be due to several contributing factors, like:
The aim is to reach and maintain a healthy weight appropriate for the height of your child. The best way to achieve this is by making small but permanent changes in eating habits and physical activity, instead of drastic changes that most probably will not last for long. Remember, healthy eating habits should be gradually developed, so do not put your child on an overly-restrictive diet as this is likely to fail. It is better to allow small amounts of foods like chocolate, ice cream or titbits once a week than not at all. Here are some of the simple changes you can make in your child’s lifestyle to help with his or her weight management:
1. Cutting down on Fat and Oil
Reducing fat is a good way to cut calories without depriving your child of important nutrients. Simple ways to cut the fat in your family’s diet include:
2. Encourage Regular Eating Habits
Children who skip their main meals tend to eat more snacks. As snacks are often high in calories and low in fibre, this may lead to overeating. Hence, it is important to inculcate a routine which includes regular mealtimes for children.
3. Discourage Meals Or Snacking While Watching TV
Encourage eating only at the dining table. Eating in front of the TV or while watching videos on mobile devices is distracting and it is easy to lose track of the amounts eaten, thus leading to overeating.
4. Do Not Use Foods As Rewards Or Punishments
When foods like sweets or fast foods are used as a reward, children will assume that these foods are better or more valuable than others.
5. Practice Healthy Eating Habits As A Family
Not only will your child not feel singled out, the whole family benefits from a healthier diet and a more active lifestyle.
6. Increase Your Family’s Physical Activities
Regular physical activity, combined with healthy eating habits, is the most effective way to control your child’s weight.
1 – 3 years
During this phase, children are curious, like to touch, pick and feel everything in sight. They tend to climb upward more than down and are able to jump. Towards 2 to 3 years, they should be able to kick a ball and ride a tricycle. Physical activities that allow play with active movement are encouraged. Types of activities should be changed frequently because of their short attention span.
3 – 6 years
Children have improved fine and gross motor skills with increased walking stride. They are able to hop, skip and run at variable speeds. Skills like ball throwing have improved control and precision. They should be encouraged to participate in activities that develop their muscles, strength and coordination (e.g. riding tricycle or bicycle, running, skipping, hopping and swimming). Parents are important role models during this phase as children are beginning to participate in physical activities with parents and others.
6 – 12 years
Children have improved strength, physical ability and coordination. Their own physical ability, interest and reaction of peers will influence them. Encourage participation in activities that interest the child. Activities that focus on aerobic conditioning, strength and endurance development are encouraged.
12 – 20 years
Growth and development continue to increase and physical activities are greatly influenced by peer pressure. The use of role models should be encouraged to increase physical activities that improve strength, endurance and coordination.
Remember! Although your child may be overweight, he/she is also growing. Therefore, the aim is not for him/her to lose weight but rather to gain weight at a slower rate. Treatment programmes, if any, should be carried out under medical supervision to ensure that it is safe, and that your child is not deprived of any essential nutrients.
Be there for your child – he/she needs your support and encouragement!
Read more on baby and child-suitable diets:
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