Should Children Be Put on a Diet?
Our kids are growing – no, really growing. Big. The statistics are scary and so is the outlook for the future if they continue. A 2006 NHS study found that 16 per cent of children aged 2 to 15 in England were classed as obese, an overall increase of 5 per cent since 1995.
It is not just the children, entire families are eating too much processed food that is high in fat, sugar and salt, not eating their five serves of fruit and veg a day and not doing enough physical activity. In many developed countries, we are developing health and social problems at a rapid rate.
The health outcomes are already being seen, as those with bad eating habits and low activity levels as children continue these patterns into adulthood. They move from tooth decay and asthma as a child to increasing the risks of heart disease, strokes, osteoarthritis, some cancers and diabetes as grown ups. Most recently, there has been an alarming change with increasing cases of type 2 diabetes being found in adolescents. Also known as mature onset diabetes, this disease is typically developed by adults through bad eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle over a long period of time.
In a society that glorifies thinness, many of our overweight children are mocked or ridiculed by their peers, they often have low self esteem and some experts say bad diets actually adversely affect behaviour and learning.
So what can be done? Do you put your overweight 10 year old on a diet? The short answer is no. Children should not go on diets. However, you should make sure they eat a balanced and nutritious range of foods. In particular if your child has diabetes, you need to watch and manage what they consume, but they can eat the same normal healthy foods all kids should be having. They don’t need to stand out or feel different.
All children need a diet that helps them develop and grow, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of carbohydrates for energy, calcium for bones and teeth, some protein and a moderate amount of sugars, good fats and salt. Food pyramids are a good way to find out what your child needs to eat and in what proportions.
If your child is overweight because of eating too many bad foods, then starting to eat properly should make them start to lose weight. But what about physical activity?
Exercise is good to tone muscles and keep kids fit and healthy, teaches a range of skills – physical and social and helps to develop strength. Recent research by the EarlyBird Diabetes Study though, suggests low activity levels do not necessarily make a child obese. In fact, it may be because they are overweight, they play less sport. Is it the chicken or the egg…
Either way, any attempt to improve diets and increase physical activity should include the whole family. Make healthy, delicious meals part of normal family life. Get the kids involved; grow your own fruit and veg in the back garden or on an allotment, let the kids help prepare and cook some tasty treats and meals. Sit down together to eat and plan meals ahead of time with everyone having input.
Apply Aristotle’s “everything in moderation”, but remember not all food is equal. Everything in moderation does not mean eating everything in the same amounts. It’s a nutritional balancing act for you and your family.