The numbers of children who are overweight, or worse, obese in the UK has risen sharply since the 1980s. Not all obese adults were fat as children though; but fat children have a high risk of progressing to being fat adults.
There are health and social consequences for children and teenagers who are too fat. These include increase in blood lipids (fats), high blood pressure at a young age and diabetes that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. The risk of cancer is increased in middle age for people who were obese when adolescents.
Obese children have also been found to under-perform at school. Normal weight children may ridicule a fat child for being less active, less attractive, less healthy, weak willed, and having poor self-control. The child who’s been picked on then becomes socially isolated – and might eat even more as a form of comfort.
Schools promote healthy eating and physical activity and encourage children to make sensible food choices. But what do children themselves think they can do – here are some ideas from personal stories:
- It can be fun walking to and from school instead of travelling with their Mum or Dad or other family member in the car. They can spot wildflowers, pick up conkers, skip along, and chat as they walk
- The children can routinely walk up stairs instead of a lift or escalator- counting the number of steps they’re walking up with the accompanying grown up.
- The child can take pride in checking the sugar content is reasonably low, in any drink carton or can they choose when out.
- When the child has a treat like chocolate or a cookie they can break little bits off and savour the taste over an hour rather than gobbling it in one go and being hungry far more shortly after. They might even have a competition between siblings - who can make their cookie last longest.
- A child gets a lot out of an after school club or weekend activity focusing on being active and agile, like gymnastics. So they make friends, compete against each other and enjoy the exercise. Even better they get a gymnastics mat at home for their living room and their Mum and/or Dad join in and get some fun exercise too (everyday!).
- Walking the dog can be even more fun when it’s a family affair- throwing a ball for the dog to race for.
- A main meal with one course should be standard fare. There’s no need to have a pudding as a routine if the food is a good mix of protein like meat, fish or eggs, and vegetables and fruit. That’s filling.
- Children can learn for themselves about the content of their food by looking at the internet with a parent, or an app such as ‘Change for Life Food Scanner’.
Thanks to Georgie (aged 8 years old) and Eliza (aged 5 years old) who helped their Gran write this article.