I recently posted this story about Childhood Obesity on my Facebook page. Although it may seem a little controversial, I stated that any parent that has an overweight child under the age of 10, is entirely responsible. I still stick by that claim. I'm sure there are parents out there who think I'm being harsh, but honestly, who else is to blame? Surely not the child. If a child of age 8-9 is choosing to snack on a pack of chips and a can of coke instead of a cheese stick and an apple, who do you think they learnt that from? Children (particularly younger ones) learn their eating habits from their parents (or guardians). There is absolutely nothing else to blame. You could try to blame media for encouraging children to eat various products, but in the end it is you, the parents, who decide what foods your child eats and what foods you keep in the house.
Ok, now that I've had my little rant, let me at least offer a solution to prevent or fix the problem of childhood obesity. You can probably tell that this is a subject I am quite passionate about!
Firstly, I'd like to draw your attention to an article written by Ryan Andrews on the Precision Nutrition website, All About Nutrition For Kids. Please take the time to read the article as it is very informative and is entirely based on scientific research (again something I am passionate about when it comes to citing percentages of any kind). I'd like to draw on a couple of points that Ryan makes. Firstly, you should be aware that Precision Nutrition is an American based company so the statistics are based on American children, however as most of you are probably aware, Australia is not so dissimilar when it comes to the numbers for child and adult obesity.
Ryan states there are three factors that are affected by a child with poor nutrition; namely:
1. Excess Weight
2. Gut Health
3. Brain and Behaviour
Excess body weight sets the stage for both child and adult diseases, including but not limited to cardiovascular disease, inflammation (which leads to asthma in children), liver disease, prediabetes, long term risk of chronic diseases such as stroke, various forms of cancer or musculoskeletal disorders and disruption of hormonal balances. Not only diseases, but excess weight also leads to being socially outcast. It shouldn't happen, but it does - 'fat kids' get picked on by bullies, which then leads to depression and social withdrawal, snowballing the child into a life of emotional overeating and social exclusion.
Children who eat calorie dense food almost always have gut problems, whether it be diarrhea or constipation for holding onto it for too long. Bottom line, poor diet leads to gastrointestinal disorders which can then affect immune function.
One of the biggest issues parents have with children these days is behavioural. It's almost as though doctors are diagnosing ADHD in every second child who exhibits some high demand behavioural issues. The fact is, poor diet is linked with children's mood and behavioural problems including ADHD, depression, aggression and even violence. One study (again, based in the U.S.) shows that 8-12 year old children consume on average 109mg of caffeine daily! Just to put that in perspective - that's approximately three cans of 375ml coke!!
Ok, now you've seen all the bad things associated with poor nutrition in our kids, how do we fix it or prevent it altogether? There are 5 basic strategies:
1. Choose whole, unprocessed foods - this is easy. Limit anything that is packaged. The less packaging, the more whole or unprocessed it is - think fruits, vegetable and meat (from the butcher). From there, learn to read nutrition labels on food. In Australia, every single item of food sold, that isn't whole (as previously listed), must have a nutrition panel on the box, bag, packaging. The most important things to pay attention to on a nutrition label is SUGAR. If you have a look at how many grams of sugar there is per 100g of said product, this will give you the percentage. For example, if you were to check a box of Kellogg's Honey Smacks, it might show you that there is 55g sugar per 100g serving. That means that 55% of Kellogg's Honey Smacks are made of SUGAR!! You want to ideally buy foods which contain less than 20%. Fruit juice is a monty for being high in sugar. We often think that fruit juice is good for us and our children, but all the good stuff (like fibre) is left behind and all we are left with is sugar to make the juice. One glass of orange juice could be equivalent to 3-4 whole oranges.... Healthy fats and proteins are also vital to good health and nutrition in kids. They are both filling and give a feeling of satiety. Eggs are the perfect food (providing there are no allergies). Egg whites are high in protein and the yolks contain essential fatty acids and good cholesterol. Also aim for full fat dairy products.
2. Incorporate fruits and vegetables. Surely this is a no-brainer.... Read Ryan's article to discover how to get them to eat more - he addresses several of the problems that parents face.
3. Vitamins and Minerals. Hopefully a diet full of fruit, vegetables, lean meats and healthy fats will accommodate these. Ryan lists the typical V&M's that kids are deficient in and the types of foods to eat to improve the levels. Under this subject, we also include WATER. Forget the fruit juice as much as possible and replace it with water. Leave juice and soft drink for special occasions only. If you want to give them something sweet, give them the whole piece of fruit to eat instead of a glass of juice.
4. Help kids eat the right amount. This is where your eating habits come into play as well. If you want your child to develop good eating habits, then you have to be a role model and lead by example. Kids and also babies are very good at self-regulating their portion control. They almost always stop eating when they feel full. However, by trying to force them to eat more, providing calorie dense foods or even feeding them while distracted or in a rush (think in front of the tv or in the car), you are developing bad eating habits which lead to overconsumption. Again, view Ryan's article for a list of strategies that work and strategies that don't work.
5. Take the lead. You're the boss. You make the decisions about what foods are going to be in your house or served up on the plate. If you provide food that's wholesome and nutritious they will decide whether to eat it or not. As stated above, kids are innately aware of knowing whether they are full or not. Plus if you are providing only good foods, there are going to be plenty that they do like to compensate for those they don't.
To summarise, I'm going to quote Ryan as he really does sum it up perfectly:
While it might seem easiest to focus on daily servings and numbers, it’s smarter to allow for flexibility. Step back and consider the big picture. A few days without 3-5 servings of vegetables is okay.
In general, aim for the following:
* Vegetables – 3-5 servings/day (serving size = fist)
* Fruit – 2-3 servings/day (serving size = fist)
* Beans/legumes/meat/eggs – 2-3 servings/day (serving size = palm)
* Whole grains – 2-3 servings/day (serving size = fist)
* Nuts/seeds/olives/avocado/coconut – 2-3 servings/day (serving size = thumb).
Summary & recommendations
How much should kids eat? They should eat until they are no longer hungry.
What should kids eat? A mix of mostly whole, minimally processed foods.
What should kids drink? Mostly water and unsweetened teas.
How to ensure healthy bowel movements? Adequate fluid, physical activity, and whole plant foods (vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds).
The #1 thing you can do to help your kids? Adopt healthy habits yourself."
Thank you Ryan Andrews for providing such a great article. Here's hoping you have learnt something and will ensure to do the best by your children by looking after their nutritional needs (and of course your own!)
Please comment below with your opinions or experiences.
~ Lindsey Hilliard