Do you know how much your little one should be eating? With levels of childhood obesity on the rise, how can we keep our kids healthy?
It’s four o’clock and the front door opens. Seconds later the kitchen is filled with kids desperate for snacks after a long day at school.
One grabs a packet of crisps, another reaches for biscuits, and then they settle down in front of the computer to play a game.
This is the routine in millions of households every day. But as harmless as it seems, it’s having a shocking impact on young people’s health.
NHS figures show almost one in 10 children are dangerously overweight by the time they start school. And by the age of 11, 20 per cent are obese.
We all know obesity can lead to a range of health problems, from heart disease to diabetes and even a higher risk of cancer.
It’s a time bomb that may affect our children in years to come. So what can we do about it?
Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed says: ‘Obesity is so complex. We live in an environment that encourages us to eat in excess and exercise less — and that’s the same for our children.
‘What children are fed from a young age matters, as that’s when patterns of eating and behaviours around food are being set.
‘Focusing on variety and helping children build a healthy relationship with food is key.’
But Charlotte concedes she’s seen first-hand how frustrated some parents feel at the lack of support offered from GPs and other health professionals.
‘Whenever they’re talking about health — including children’s weight and nutrition — parents should feel supported, listened to and understood,’ she says. ‘The issue of weight is a very sensitive subject, and there are plenty of ways to approach it without suggesting blame.’
So if you’re worried about your child’s weight, should you take matters into your own hands and put them on a diet?
‘Growing children should never be put on a diet,’ Charlotte says. ‘This can be damaging and also may restrict calories and nutrients which are incredibly important for a developing child.’
But there are sneaky ways you can change what your child eats.
Focus on what to add to your child’s diet rather than what to take away.
She says: ‘No food is good or bad. But we should be eating more of some foods than others.’
Introduce more fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds.
Give your child plenty of water.
Also teach them to look out for their body’s signs of thirst, fullness and hunger.
Know how many calories your child needs.
Charlotte says that children aged between four and six years old are recommended to have around 1400 calories a day. For children aged seven to 10, the recommendation is 1800.
She says: ‘Good habits are more important than calorie counting, so offer your child a good mealtime routine and stick to it.
‘If you plan to replace or cut out certain foods from your child’s diet, it’s worth talking to a nutritionist registered with the Association for Nutrition or a registered dietician first, so your child doesn’t miss out on vital nutrients.’
For more about children’s nutrition, visit littlefoodie.org
Edited by Julie Cook