Childhood obesity is a growing problem in Australia, and worldwide. In 2014–15, more than 1 in 4 Australian children (27%) aged 5–17 years were overweight or obese (20% overweight and 7% obese). The numbers were similar for boys and girls and across all age groups.
Carrying excess weight not only affects a child’s physical health but can also lead to social problems. Children who are overweight are more likely to be teased by their peers and to develop a low self-esteem or poor body image. This can prevent them from developing friendships and affect their performance at school. Overweight children are also very likely to become overweight adults.
Most factors which can contribute to children becoming overweight are modifiable and even if your child is genetically predisposed to obesity this doesn’t mean it’s inevitable — building healthy lifestyle habits from a young age is even more important.
Taking steps to prevent weight gain, or identifying and addressing weight problems is important to reduce the short and long-term impacts that carrying excess weight can have on your child.
- Focus on healthy lifestyle habits rather than weight loss. It can be hard for children to lose weight and in many cases the goal is to prevent further weight gain as they grow taller, rather than losing weight per-se.
- Provide healthy food and drink choices. Encourage the consumption of fresh foods including fruit and vegetables, limit energy-dense processed foods and choose water as the main drink.
- Involve your child in choosing and preparing healthy meals. If you have space, try growing a few veggies or herbs.
- Have regular family meals. Sit at the table and enjoy eating together without the television or other distractions.
- Encourage your child to be active. Walk places where possible, encourage active play and plan regular physical activity as a family.
- Limit screen time. This includes television, computer games and other electronic devices.
- Be a good role model. Children learn from their parents so eating well and being active yourself is important.
- Involve the whole family. This makes it easier for your child to stick with lifestyle changes and is good for everyone.
- Work on building your child’s self-esteem. Don’t label them as overweight, praise and encourage the things they do well, make sure they know that you love and value them and find activities they enjoy and can do well at.
If you’re concerned about your child’s weight see your GP, paediatrician or a dietitian.
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