One in five children in their first year of school were classed as overweight or obese in 2016 (NHS), rising to one in three in year six classes.
As part of National Childhood Obesity Week, we’ve put together our advice for looking after your children’s health.
Lead by example
Kids learn a lot by watching their parents and tend to pay a lot of attention to what you do, rather than what you say.
For example, telling your children to cut back on crisps or spend less time on their phones probably won’t work if you continue to snack and text.
So, if you want your family to get healthier by exercising regularly and eating well, it’s a good idea to do so yourself first.
It has been found that children who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight or obese than those who skip the first meal of the day. It’s important to focus on healthy choices, though, like oatmeal, fresh fruit, whole grain cereal that’s high in fibre and low in sugar.
You’ve heard it time and time again, but a balanced diet is very important for a child’s wellbeing. This doesn’t mean you need to cut out all sweets and crisps, but limit the amount your child consumes – live by the saying ‘everything in moderation’. For example, you could replace a lunchbox snack with a healthy option, such as dried fruit.
Children aren’t known for their love of fruit and vegetables, but there are some handy tricks you can use to persuade them to eat more:
- Chop vegetables into small pieces and include them in soups, stews and sauces. As time goes on, gradually include bigger chunks
- Encourage your child to try a small piece of fruit or veg and reward them for doing so
- Show how much you enjoy eating fruit and veg – let your children see how eating them is enjoyable rather than a chore
- Try making a feature of fruit and veg on the plate – kids love the use of colour and themes such as animals and smiley faces. There are some great ideas on Pinterest
- When you go shopping, let the kids help pick the fruit and veg they’d like – if they’re involved they may be more willing to try them
- Similarly, let your child help wash and prepare some of the fruit and veg they eat.
You can also use pure, unsweetened juices and smoothies to help up their intake of fruit and veg, but these only count for one of their five a day.
You can find out more about what counts as a balanced diet on the NHS website.
Avoiding weight gain isn’t just dependent on what your family eats, but how much.
Try to avoid feeding your child oversized portions. There’s very little official guidance on precisely how much food children require, so you’ll need to use your own judgement. A good rule of thumb is to start meals with small servings and let your child ask for more if they’re still hungry.
Don’t make your child finish everything on their plate if they’re full. It’s also a good idea to give children smaller plates rather than those for adults, as this encourages them to eat smaller portions.
It may also help if you encourage your child to eat slowly and have set mealtimes. You can use mealtimes as an opportunity to catch up on what’s happened during the day at school or with friends.
Physical activity is also important for a child’s healthy development, as well as providing them with a mental break from school.
If their school offers active afterschool clubs, then encourage your child to get involved. Similarly, if you can take them to a class or sports club outside of school, this can be a great way for them to find an activity they’re passionate about.
Try making exercise a family activity. This doesn’t have to be anything serious or formal – a trip to the park to play frisbee or a kick about in the back garden are great ways to get active.
If you have a dog, encourage your kids to get involved in your daily walks. This is the perfect excuse to incorporate exercise into their routine.
Cut back on TV and screentime
Guidance on the NHS website says that experts advise allowing children to watch no more than two hours of television per day.
Removing all screens – including mobile phones – from their bedroom at night can also help to improve their sleep. (You can use this handy sleep calculator to help you work out how many ZZZs your child needs to stay healthy.)
A study last year found that three quarters of British children spend less than an hour outside each day. In fact, one in five parents surveyed said their children don’t go outside for recreation at all on a typical day.
Outdoor play is not only great for exercise, but has also been shown to benefit children’s mental health, improve their understanding of risk and boost their creativity (The Wild Network).
For more advice on children’s wellbeing, you can read our blog on looking after your family’s mental health. Additionally, you can find out more about keeping an eye on your own physical wellbeing on our physical health page.
If you’re worried that you or your child may be overweight, you can try using the NHS’s healthy weight calculator.
Remember, if you’re worried about your family’s physical health then we’re here to help. You can ring our free, confidential helpline on 08081 311 333 or use our online chat.