A diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help prevent childhood obesity

Childhood Obesity Is a Health Risk

Children and adolescents need energy for growth and development. Food (energy input) provides energy for daily activities (energy output). When a child overeats and does not have adequate exercise, the excess energy is stored as fat in his body. This can lead to unhealthy weight gain and the child may then become overweight or obese.

If you are not sure if your child’s weight is within a healthy range, look at their body mass index (BMI). However, take note that while BMI is measured the same for adults and children, they are interpreted differently.

Overweight and obese children with higher BMI may also develop childhood hypertension and diabetes.

Studies have shown that young children who are overweight are more likely to become overweight adults. Overweight adults, especially those with a high body fat percentage, are at an increased risk of developing diseases such as:

Overweight children may also be teased by their friends. This may affect their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Role of Parents: How Parents Affect Childhood Obesity

As a parent, you play an important role in setting a good foundation for your child's dietary habits. To stay fit and healthy, teach your child to choose healthy food and be active from an early age. Adopting a healthy lifestyle helps your child to feel fitter, look better and concentrate better in his studies.

Numerous studies have confirmed that parents play a big role. When parents eat fruits and veggies, their children do too. When parents indulge in fast food and sweetened drinks, children adopt those habits as well. When parents choose to play video games or mobile games instead of playing sports—you guessed it—the children do the same.

If you think your child might be getting overweight and headed towards obesity and want to turn things around, here are 6 practical tips to help your child trim down, get healthier and avoid getting a whole host of health problems as they grow up.

#1 Use My Healthy Plate

Use My Healthy Plate as a guide to the types and quantities of food your child should eat each day.

Use My Healthy Plate to help your child eat healthier and prevent obesity

Never underestimate a parent’s influence on a child. Children eat what their parents eat. It’s best parents and children eat together using My Healthy Plate. Your child will develop healthy eating habits in the long term when they start on the right footing.

My Healthy Plate is not only about getting the right proportion of nutrients, but also about portion control which helps your child avoid overeating.

When you feel a tad tempted to give him more, remind yourself that overfeeding him today will do more harm than good in the long run. There is much evidence that supports the claim that childhood obesity shortens adult life, in addition to increasing the chances of heart disease, stroke and other illnesses.

#2 Develop Healthy Eating Habits

Healthy eating habits can help prevent childhood obesity. Habits can be taught and learnt.

  • Encourage your child to:

    • Eat a variety of food—and to always eat all food in moderation.
    • Eat at regular meal times and not to skip meals.​​​
  • Make whole grains a part of your child's diet. Replace refined grains with wholegrain food products like wholemeal bread, brown rice beehoon, brown rice, wholegrain cereal or oat porridge. Choose grain products which are lower in fat, sugar and salt.
  • Get your child into a routine of eating fruit and vegetables. Offer your child a variety of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Offer your child protein-rich food such as lean meat, fish, legumes and eggs. Prepare these food with very little salt, sugar or oil.
  • Dairy products are important for your growing child because they are high in calcium. Include dairy products as part of his meals. If your child does not like to drink milk, you can include yoghurt, cheese, soya bean milk (calcium fortified) or small fish with edible bones, such as sardines or ikan bilis. If your child is above two years old, you can use low-fat dairy products.
  • Choose snacks which are low in salt, fat and sugar. Look out for snacks with the Healthier Choice Symbol.
  • Avoid sweetened drinks. Satisfy your child's thirst with water. Your child needs six to eight glasses of water every day. If your child is very active, it is important to encourage him to drink more water.
  • Prepare home-cooked meals at least twice a day (e.g. breakfast and dinner). Cook food with less salt, fat, oil and sugar. Use healthier cooking methods such as steaming, boiling, stir-frying and grilling instead of deep frying.
  • Avoid cooking extra food. Cook enough for one meal only. Advise your child to leave the table once he has finished the meal.
  • When eating out, you may offer your child two healthier options. For example, ask "Would you like noodle soup or cai fan (rice and dishes)?" instead of asking "What would you like to eat?" Teach your child to say "no" to people who offer him food when he is not hungry. If your child keeps asking for unhealthy snacks, say "no" firmly and offer a healthier one instead.
  • Limit pocket money to a reasonable amount (based on your child's age). Do not give excess pocket money for your child to spend on unhealthy snacks.
  • You can help your child reduce his intake of unhealthy food gradually. For example:

    • If your child drinks seven cans of soft drinks a week, cut down to four. Once he has achieved his goal, try to reduce the quantity further.
    • Drink half a can of soft drink instead of one, dilute it with ice or add water to it.
  • Praise your child when he chooses healthier food.

#3 Nurture healthy eating habits in your child

  • Avoid arguments during mealtimes. Mealtimes should be relaxing, pleasant and fun experiences for your child.
  • Be there with your child. Having meals as a family creates opportunities for you to model healthy eating habits to your child.
  • Create a routine for your child. This means setting a time for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack times. Once you have a routine, mealtimes become more relaxing for your child.
  • Do not allow distractions during mealtimes. These include watching television or playing with toys.
  • Establish the habit of sitting in a regular place for meals. It is best not to have him lying down, walking or running about while eating.
  • Food choices are cultivated from young. Find simple ways to increase your child's awareness of healthy and nutritious food. For example, you could take him along to the supermarket and teach him to make healthier choices.

#4 Guide your child to make healthier food choices

  • Include a variety of colourful food in your child's meal and cut food into interesting shapes such as star-shaped carrots to attract his attention.
  • Be realistic. Start with small portions and refill his plate on request.
  • Encourage self-feeding. They enjoy the feeling of being "grown-up".
  • Be persistent! It takes numerous attempts before your child accepts new food. Continue to offer him a variety of food. If he does not like a particular food, offer it again in a week's time.
  • Combine new food with food he already enjoys eating, for example, an ice blended fruit and milk smoothie or cheese on broccoli.
  • It is not encouraged to use food as a reward. instead use fun activities such as movies, board games, or time at the park as a reward.

All in all, it is about creating a supportive environment for your child to eat healthier and to lose weight gradually. We also want to make sure, when we are instilling these habits, our child does not feel judged or shame. These negative emotions could be detrimental to his psyche and affect his ability to manage his weight.

#5 Get Plenty of Physical Activity

An inactive lifestyle is also one of the risk factors of obesity in children. For example, the average child in the United States spends about four hours each day watching television.

With the rising popularity of computer and video games—many of which can also be played on smartphones—it is likely that more and more kids will have more screen time instead of active playtime.

As role models, parents should encourage their children to increase their activity levels by engaging in more sports or exercises. Parents should also set a good example by spending less time on sedentary activities such as watching the television or playing games on smartphones.

If your child has been given an appointment for medical assessment and/or nutrition counselling at the Student Health Centre, remember to bring your child for these sessions. If you wish to bring your child to your family doctor, please cancel the appointment at the Student Health Centre.

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