Public Health England estimates that almost a quarter of under-10s are obese or overweight in the UK, rising to one-in-three for 11 to 15-year-olds. A new paper published by The Lancet calls for more to be done to stem these rising levels of obesity but parents can also keep their children at healthier weights. Here are some tips that can help.
Be a good role model
When it comes to children's eating habits, research by LSE has shown that it has more to do with nurture than nature, with overweight children likely to have overweight parents. As the gatekeeper to what your child eats and how much they exercise they get, by setting a good example yourself, you can help to instill good habits in your child. Whether it is giving them a child-sized portion of the food you're preparing, or taking them with you when you go for a swim, it can show your child how being healthy can be fun, as well as giving you an opportunity to spend quality time together.
Encourage 60 minutes of physical activity a day
Children need about an hour per day of physical activity for good health, but this doesn't necessarily have to be all at once. It could be as simple as walking to school instead of jumping in the car or onto public transport – which saves money as well. Other exercise ideas could be taking them down to the local park to play on the swings and slides, encouraging participation in a local sports team like football or netball, getting out as a family on bike rides or anything that stops them slumping in front of the TV in the evenings or at the weekend.
Keep to child-sized portions of what you're eating
This may sound obvious, but children need to be given child-sized portions. The best way to work this out is to start a meal with a small serving and let your child ask for more if they're still hungry. By piling food up on their plate, they may be eating too much. But don't feel you have to cook them something different to what you're having: a study by the University of Edinburgh has shown that young children who eat the same meals as their parents are more likely to have healthier diets than those who eat different foods. It can also help to expand their food palettes, rather than the standard “kids meals.”
Give them healthy meals, drinks and snacks
Just like adults, children need five or more portions of fruit and veg every day. Discouraging too many sugary or high-fat foods like fizzy drinks and sweets will have a positive impact on their health and wellbeing. Ideas for lunch box snacks include raw carrot or pepper with a hummus or cottage cheese dip, which are healthy, tasty and fun to eat. By getting your children into good food habits, they will not only be the correct weight, they will also have greater levels of concentration, with research suggesting clear links between high sugar intake and hyperactivity.
Less screen time and more sleep
Lack of sleep will affect a child's mood and behaviour – but it might also increase their risk of obesity. The Harvard School of Public Health has stated there are several reasons for this, including an increased appetite because of sleep deprivation, and also a decrease in physical activity because of tiredness the day after a poor night's sleep. According to Harvard School of Public Health's report you can work out how much sleep children need using this simple formula – get the child's age and divide it by 4 (for example if they're 12, the answer would be 3). Now, get that number and take it away from 12.25 (we don't know why, but this seems to work!). So, a child that is 12 needs 9.25 hours sleep per night. Simple.