Chubby cheeks are almost a cultural obsession with us. If a child does not have them, you are nagged by the entire mother and aunt brigade about how you are underfeeding the poor child. As far as children go, round is in and healthy - even in their teens! This is one dangerous myth that needs to be busted urgently - fat accumulation is a potential health hazard.
Though detailed studies are needed to understand the prevalence of overweight and obesity in India, recent studies on school-based data show an obesity range of about 5 per cent to 24 per cent for children and adolescents. Obesity is not just a cosmetic or social issue. Obese children have known to be more susceptible to conditions such as asthma, insulin resistance, lipid imbalance and obstructive sleep apnea. Besides this, there are many othermedical problemsthat can manifest themselves in adulthood.
Social pressures on obese children are many. They oftenhave to put up with taunting from peers, low self-esteem, feeling isolated and other behavioural issues. Childhood obesity cannot be shrugged off as "puppy fat" and needs to be addressed seriously.
Besides lifestyle and diet issuesobesity can also be caused by hereditary and genetic factors. While medication may be required for some, in most cases family support and lifestyle modifications can work wonders in tackling the problem.A healthy food and exercise routine can be put into practice for everyone - whether there are weight issues or not. It is tougher to correct an alarmingly high Body Mass Index than preventing it from happening. Make the change now.
Be a healthy role model
Children should not be the only ones making changes. With the busy lives parents lead, healthy eating can often slide down the priority chart.If they see you making a real effort to improve your own habits, there's a good chance they will make some changes too. Be sure to make changes that are sustainable.It will not help your child to see you working out vigorously for a week and then giving up the next. Make gradual changes that are practical given your daily routine and which you can handle in the long run.
Health is not about weight alone. Children, especially teenagers may often be sensitive about their weight. They need to understand that weight is just one indicator of health and it is equally important to eat right and be physically active. Weight loss will happen automatically and in a more natural manner once a balanced, nutritious diet and an active physical routine is in place. Enlist your doctor's help if you feel you are not getting the message through.
Make the idea of being healthy a positive one, something to be excited about. No one in the family will want to try it if it seems like a chore or a punishment. If you set goals, make sure they are oriented towards food or activity and not how many kilos to lose a week. Your goals, just like your lifestyle changes have to be holistic.
Changing food habits
Changing children's food habits has to start with changing their attitude towards food. If they are used to being given ice cream as a reward for eating green vegetables, they will always consider eating vegetables a chore. One way of getting kids interested in vegetables is to have them help you cook a meal, as they are more likely to taste something they have cooked themselves. Another is to make food fun. Making a moustache out of some greens and then adding carrots as eyes and a cucumber as a nose to a roti does not take more than a minute but makes dinner time a lot healthier and easier.
Enable children to make the right food and drink choices in the future by giving them a say in what they eat today. Let them be aware of what each type of food does to their body. Give them acceptable options of adding healthy foods into thingsthey already like- chopped fruits and nuts on cereal, small pieces of broccoli in pasta, leftover vegetables in a paratha etc.
Enforce the breakfast habit for the whole family. A healthy hearty breakfast will keep energy levels up for the crucial school hours and provide a great start to the day.
A simple way to keep them out of the junk food habit is to keep the junk food out of the house. Instead, keep a ready supply of healthy snack options such as fruits, murmura, roasted mixtures etc.
Make exercise an integral part of your family's routine. Encourage your children to join sporting clubs in school and in your neighbourhood. Swimming in a neighbourhood pool, or walking and cycling around the block in the evenings are the simplest physical activities the whole family can enjoy together.
Outdoor play can be a great way to make new friends. Children get bored of activities if they are on their own, but are enthusiastic if friends are involved too. Once they get into the habit of any kind of physical activity, children will feel their performance in sports improving, making them run faster or swing a bat harder. Gradually your kids will also understand the correlation betweeneating healthy and feeling more energetic, and will be happy to fully subscribe to the healthy living programme.
No compromising on sleep
It is easy to ignore, but sleep is as much a part of a healthy lifestyle as is good nutrition and regular physical activity. We normally enforce sleep schedules for babies and toddlers and ease up as the child grows. But even older children need at least nine hours of sleep each night. Sleep gives your child energy and lets their bodies grow and recover from the day's activities. In fact, there are many health problems that result from lack of sleep, apart from poor academic performance and being tired or low on energy all the time.
Limit Screen Time
Television is not the only screen to absorb a child, you also have iPads, hand held video games, x-box style large screen games, computers and so much more. Sitting in front of a screen encourages snacking on unhealthy foods and cuts down on active outdoor time.
Keep track of how much screen time you and your children are getting, and then set limits for the entire family. You'll be amazed how much extra time you "find" when you turn off the TV or computer.The first step to restrict screen time is to bring back meals to the dining table, away from the TV. Restrict screens to a schedule and do not use it as a reward or punishment.
It is tough for children to resist the temptation all around them - sugar-laden drinks, fried, salty snacks, unhealthy fast food, TV and computers as a pastime etc. But this is the time to make that difficult change. Childhood habits die hard and careless eating habits acquired will come back to haunt your children later in life.