Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 18 April 2015

The extra mile

This week CT’s fitness expert Laura Nicholl talks about obesity in children


Children need lots of energy because they are growing. A varied and nutritious diet is essential for their development.

However, like adults, if they take in more energy, in the form of food, than they use up, the extra energy is stored in their bodies as fat.

In the UK an estimated one-in-four 11 to 15-year-olds are overweight or obese and the problem is growing every year. This is a figure that shocks me and it is important that we put steps in place to combat this.

Each week we read articles aimed at adults telling them to stay healthy and lose weight, but it is essential that we are looking after our children’s health and fitness as much as our own.

Research shows that obese children are at increased risk from a number of serious health problems more usually seen in adulthood, including hardened and blocked arteries (coronary artery diseases), high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. When they grow up, they are more likely to be obese.

This means a higher risk of heart attack and stroke, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer, and high blood pressure in adulthood. The risk of health problems increases the more overweight a person becomes.

Being overweight as a child can also cause psychological distress. Teasing about their appearance affects a child's confidence and self-esteem, and can lead to isolation and depression.

Why are more children overweight?

Very few children become overweight because of an underlying medical problem. Research indicates that children are more likely to be obese if their parents are obese.

It isn't known whether this is because of genetic factors which the child inherits, if it’s because families tend to share eating and activity habits, or a combination of them both.

However, it's thought that most children put on excess weight because their lifestyles include an unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity.

It is certainly easier than ever before for children to become overweight. High-calorie foods, such as fast food and confectionery, are abundant, relatively cheap and heavily promoted, specifically at children.

Exercise is no longer a regular part of everyone's day. Some children never walk or cycle to school, or play any kind of sport. It is not unusual for children to spend hours in front of a television or computer

If you are concerned about your child's weight, encourage a variety of fresh, nutritious foods in his or her diet, including:

  • Starchy foods which are rich in complex carbohydrates are bulky, relative to the amount of calories they contain. This makes them both filling and nutritious. Sources such as bread, potatoes, pasta, rice should provide half the energy in a child's diet.
  • Instead of high-fat foods like chocolate, biscuits, cakes and crisps, try healthier alternatives such as fresh fruit or crusty bread.
  • Try to grill or bake foods instead of frying. Burgers, fish fingers and sausages are just as tasty when grilled, but have a lower fat content. Oven chips are lower in fat than fried chips.
  • Avoid fizzy drinks that are high in sugar. Substitute them with fresh juices diluted with water or sugar-free alternatives.
  • A healthy breakfast of a low-sugar cereal (eg wholemeal wheat biscuits) with milk, plus a piece of fruit is a good start to the day.
  • Instead of sweets, offer dried fruit or tinned fruit in natural juice. Frozen yoghurt is an alternative to ice cream. Bagels are an alternative to doughnuts.

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