Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Sweet treats, childhood obesity and the Co Antrim mum helping her daughter adopt a healthier lifestyle

As a report reveals the alarming level of childhood obesity here, Stephanie Bell finds out how one mum is helping her child adopt a healthier lifestyle

Caring mum: Joelene Byrne now serves up smaller portions at family meal-times

Some of the most popular cordials and fruit juices we give our kids are as loaded with sugar as many fizzy drinks and could be putting children at risk of obesity, a shock new report has revealed.

Results of a label survey by Safefood into the sugar levels of a selection of juices found that cordials and diluted juices had in some cases the same sugar content as an equivalent serving of Coca-Cola, Pepsi or 7UP.

And one supermarket brand squeezed five cubes of sugar into a 200ml serving of cordial.

Also, half of Northern Ireland parents have said that their children are drinking juice drinks and fizzy drinks at least once a day or more.

The survey was part of a new three-year campaign launched by Safefood in October to help parents combat the growing problem of childhood obesity in Northern Ireland.

The campaign has emphasised practical changes to everyday lifestyle habits such as portion size, replacing sugary drinks and reducing screen time to help parents make a big difference to the health and wellbeing of children.

Approximately one in four primary school children in Northern Ireland are overweight or obese and will grow up with an increased risk of developing serious health conditions like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and even some cancers.

One local parent who has been concerned that her daughter is overweight is Joelene Byrne from Glengormley.

Joelene (28) is a single mum to Rhianna (9) and 15-month-old Levi. She became worried about her older daughter's weight when she started to buy her clothes for a child aged 12-13 years, or size 6 adult sizes.

To get some help with tackling the problem, Joelene attended a focus group for the Safefood campaign and says she felt guilty when discussing the lifestyle habits of her family.

This gave her the motivation to make small changes to her daughter's diet and activity habits -- she has replaced fruit and fizzy drinks with water, food-based treats for games and crafts and also encouraged her daughter to help her cook so that she would try more fruit and vegetables.

Joelene says: "I've noticed the weight going on to Rhianna over the past couple of years. Everyone told me not to worry and that it was just puppy fat but I was overweight as a child and so I didn't want her to struggle with her weight and have people making fun of her at school.

"She is tall for her age but yesterday I bought her new clothes and I had to get her a top for aged 11-12 years and bottoms for 12-13 and that's just not right."

Joelene freely admits it has always been a battle to get Rhianna to eat her greens. She also tended to serve up the same amount of food to her daughter as she ate herself.

She says: "She'd never eat fruit or vegetables and would have eaten portion sizes the same as mine.

"I've made small changes in a gradual way that she hasn't even noticed. I've changed her plate to a smaller plate and I'm letting her make her own lunch with healthier foods.

"I'm getting her to help me cook and it is encouraging her to taste new things. She recently started to eat peppers and baby corn for the first time.

"I'm also chopping vegetables really small and putting them into food and she is trying them that way."

Joelene was also concerned that Rhianna was not getting enough physical exercise as she doesn't participate in any sports.

Through the focus group, she has persuaded Rhianna to take up netball, which she is enjoying.

She has also encouraged her daughter's interest in arts and crafts by replacing sweet treats with colouring books and craft packs.

She adds: "Rhianna is drinking more water than fruit juice although she never really drank fizzy drinks, just cordials, and I always bought the ones with no added sugar.

"It is tough and it is a worry but I have been surprised how small everyday changes have made a difference.

"I still haven't got her to eat fruit but I'm happy she is trying new vegetables and we have cut chocolate and sweets out of her diet."

Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan, director of human health and nutrition at Safefood, said: "Many parents may be under the impression that juice drinks that mention the term 'fruit' are a healthier alternative for their children than fizzy drinks.

"What parents may not realise is that these drinks are often really high in sugar and could contain as much sugar as 'fizzy' soft drinks.

"It's okay to give your child a small glass of 100% fruit juice or a smoothie once a day -- this counts as one of their five a day.

"However, large quantities of juice drinks, cordials or fizzy drinks can contribute to excess weight in children and, as parents, we tend to ignore the contribution of liquids to our kids' daily calorie intake."

Parents were urged to reduce their children's intake of these drinks and replace them with water or milk in what is seen as a practical step to helping prevent obesity and overweight in children.

Dr Michelle McKinley, of the Centre for Public Health at Queen's University Belfast, says : "Drinking large quantities of popular juice drinks, cordials and fizzy drinks on a daily basis is linked to excess weight in children. So, as parents, as well as thinking about the food your children are eating, think about what types of drinks they are consuming and the levels of sugar they contain.

"Try to gradually substitute sugary drinks for water by making sure water is freely available between and during meals, and when making up cordials add plenty of water. A glass of semi-skimmed milk is also a good option."

HOW TO HELP YOUR CHILD CUT BACK ON THOSE FIZZY DRINKS

* As a rule don't buy them -- if they're not in the house they cannot be consumed. Remember that saying no once at the supermarket is a lot easier than saying no 20 times at home

* Don't offer juice drinks, cordials or fizzy drinks at mealtimes. Offer water instead

* Make water freely available between meals

* Switch to water at the cinema and when eating out -- drinking a sugary drink with foods that are high in fat and sugar is getting a 'double dose' of sugar

* A small glass (100mls) of 100% fruit juice or a no sugar-added smoothie once a day counts as one children's five a day

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