Diet Strategies to Combat Childhood Obesity

All children need to gain weight as they grow older, but gaining extra pounds – more than what’s needed to support their growth and development can lead to childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that occurs when a child is at least 20% well above the normal weight for his or her age and height.

The health risk of obesity in children tends to only increase with age and usually gets carried into adulthood. While the short term implications include the child suffering from depression, low self esteem and at times, even social isolation; the long term consequences anticipated are hormonal disturbances, increased risk to lifestyle disorders like hypertension and diabetes and premature ageing. In adults, the tool used to assess one’s weight status is the body mass index, or BMI. However, BMI alone is not an appropriate measure for children. A child’s BMI percentile chart has to be used alongside charts that take into account the child’s rate of growth, sex and age – and is best interpreted with the help of your physician or a qualified dietician.

The Diet strategy to combat Childhood obesity-

Childhood obesity needs a multi-disciplinary approach.

– One of the best strategies to combat excess weight in the child is by improving the diet and exercise levels of the entire family and not only the child’s.

– Another important aspect which must be kept in mind while working out a healthy regime for children is not to blindly restrict calories in a child’s diet, as this could adversely affect the child’s growth and development and also be psychologically stressful. Instead, it would be advisable if we could just focus on balanced diets, healthy eating habits, and active lifestyle patterns, with moderate caloric restriction(by cutting down on the unhealthy fat intake) without depriving them of nutrients.

– Breakfast forms an integral part of the battle against childhood obesity. However, this is one meal which gets overlooked owing to time constraints and the child’s tendency to skip eating anything while running to catch the bus. Insistence from parents to ensure that the child does not leave empty stomach helps. An ideal breakfast must have a good source of carbs and protein and can typically be worked around a glass of milk with cereals of their choice, cheese sandwich, boiled eggs and fruit juice or chicken fajitas.

– Gradually adopt a diet that should contain 50-60% of calories from complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits and vegetables), 20-30 % from lean proteins( whole pulses, egg whites and fish) and not contain anything more than 20% of calories from healthy fats( nuts). By doing so we would be able to reduce at least 200 – 300 cal/day and thereby will be able to effectively reduce 1.5 to 2kg per month (approximately) – a gradual and healthy rate of weight loss.

– Restrictions on simple sugars (cakes, cookies and candies), fried snacks, junk foods, aerated soft drinks and red meats to once in a fortnight is essential.

– Try sneaking in vegetables and fruits through soups, juices, shakes, dips and salads.

– Getting adequate amounts of calcium is important. Calcium can be added in a child’s diet as milk and milk products, dark leafy vegetables, legumes like chick peas, nuts(almonds),soybean,sesame seeds (til laddoos) and whole grains (millets).

– Drinking 10-12 glasses of water, watery soups and vegetable broths and fruit juices (prefer whole fruits over fruit juices) helps. These juices not only supply the child with antioxidants, vital nutrients and fiber, but also provide satiety, and thus help in controlling compulsive overeating.

– Encourage physical activity in the form of active group games and games which can be played life-long e.g. Tennis, basket ball or swimming.

– Regulated television viewing, computer/video games (not more than 30 minutes to an hour per day) can go a long way in promoting good health.

– As parents, we should encourage them to eat properly at meal times so that they don’t feel hungry in between meals and gravitate towards fast foods. Children are good learners, and they learn best by example.

– Keep introducing the healthy foods (read fruits, eggs, milk, dates, almonds, curd, carrot) in one form or other, irrespective of knowing that the effort might get rejected by your fussy junior.

Our little ones are enthusiastic learners and are sure to learn best by eating with the family and watching elders eat their cereals, fruits and vegetables or finishing off the salad plates. Try to get even yourself involved in regular physical activity and make meal time, fun filled family times (not power game or battlefields) and the pleasure of being the parent of a healthy, confident child would be yours.

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By Dr. Panchali Moitra  |   Submitted On April 20, 2012

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