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Save your child from obesity

 

Research compiled by the British Medical Journal has revealed that a third of children under four are overweight, with one in ten being classified as obese. These scary statistics illustrate that children of the millennium are being exposed to a lifetime of weight problems and health issues that are an inevitable consequence.

The reasons why are pretty clear. The television and computer age has created a generation of couch potatoes with youngsters watching on average as much as 3 hours a day. Computer games and game boys add injury to insult as children plug in for their addictive fix of fantasy. The Independent Television commission survey carried out in 1999 found that a quarter of under fours had television sets in the bedrooms. As a result children are no longer 'going out to play'.

According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey published in June 2000, children between 6-15 are failing to meet the Health Education Authority's recommendations for young people's participation in physical activity. This lack of exercise, which is endemic in our children's lives, has a knock on effect, not only on their weight, but also on their overall health. A child's immune system relies on exercise to function properly. The lymph, which carries some of the immune army around the body, needs exercise to move. So making sure children have lots of exercise will actively improve their resistance, whereas lack of it will increase their risk of frequent infections as the lymphatic system becomes sluggish and clogged up.

Diet is obviously another major cause of this trend towards obesity. Our children's diet is too high in saturated fat, sugar and salt. The most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey (June 2000) carried out on 4-18 year olds showed that the most commonly consumed foods by this age group were white bread, savoury snacks, chips, biscuits, potatoes and chocolate confectionery. The children surveyed were eating less than half of the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. One in five ate no fruit at all during the week of the survey. Fizzy soft drinks were the most popular drink with the younger children consuming on average 1.5 litres a week. With over 70% of their diet consisting of sweets, chips and junk foods, we are raising a generation of undernourished, overweight 'junk food junkies'.

Steps to healthier children

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Limit television time to one hour a day

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Allow computer games to be played only at certain times. For example, set an egg timer for 20 minutes for each player. If their passion is their game boy, do the same or restrict it to car journeys. This has the added advantage of a peaceful journey, at a time when they have to be sitting still!

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For toddlers, join an activity class once a week. Walk to the shops, or your local playgroup rather than go in the car.

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For older children, get them to join an after school club like football for boys, ballet or jazz dance for girls. Many local sports centres now run activity clubs for all age groups.

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Go swimming as a family once a week, and have races up and down the pool.

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Avoid buying commercialised children's foods. A recent report by the Food Commission revealed that 57% of the 358 children's foods they examined had high levels of sugar. In one type of children's yoghurt, there was 5 teaspoons of sugar per pot.

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Avoid buying foods with hidden fats. Ready prepared chicken nuggets and chips are laden with unhealthy levels of heat-damaged fats. Roast chicken or a chicken stir fry is a much healthier option that can be enjoyed by all age groups.

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Get your children to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. A portion may be a quarter of an apple or two florets of broccoli for a toddler, whereas it could be a whole apple and three or four florets of broccoli for a school age child. Offer fruit and fruit bars as snacks and add vegetables to stews and mince or homemade pies.

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Make home cooking a part of every day life and get the children involved. Asking a four year old to help make a salad, can almost guarantee that some will be eaten during preparation. Include vegetables that children tend to like e.g. tinned sweet corn, carrot sticks, chopped cucumber, strips of red and yellow peppers, crunchy lettuce, chopped celery and make a honey dressing to pour over the top.

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If crisps and chocolate bars and fizzy drinks are part of your children's every day diet choose healthier alternatives like Pom Bar teddy bear crisps, muesli bars and natural fizzy drinks like Appletise, or Aqua Libra. For children under four offer diluted fresh fruit juices and water to drink. Ideally keep sweets to after lunch at weekends only. This will help to preserve their teeth as well as their weight.

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Eat as a family as much as possible. Prepare the same food for you all. Children will do what you do and not what you say!

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