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WHEN you pile on a few extra pounds, the default is to try the latest fad diet to shift them.
With children, weight loss is a different ball game. The goal for parents should be to help their child maintain a healthy weight as well as a healthy relationship with food and exercise.
Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert tells Sun Health: “Modelling healthy eating behaviours and patterns can go a long way in helping them harness a positive long-term relationship with food and their bodies.
“Kids are always growing so it’s key not to drastically slash their calories and risk nutrient deficiencies.”
But with rising obesity rates increasing the risk of diseases such as cancer and type 2 diabetes, experts are concerned.
In a bid to tackle the issue, the Government asked NHS regulators to look at the evidence for “fat jabs” (semaglutide) as a weight-loss tool in children as young as 12, with drug regulators in the US and Europe already recommending its use.
The move is controversial — with fears over the nasty side effects, which include diarrhoea, vomiting and fatigue.
Rhiannon says: “Right now, I just don’t think there is enough evidence surrounding the long-term risks and benefits of the ‘fat jab’ for children.
“We instead need to focus on getting to the root cause of the problem.”
NHS England stats published last month show 38.1 per cent of ten and 11-year-olds and 22.5 per cent of kids aged four and five are an unhealthy weight.
And according to the most recent numbers in 2021, 28 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds are either overweight or obese. John Maingay, director of policy and public affairs at the British Heart Foundation, said: “These figures show that the number of children living with obesity is still too high, despite some signs of improvement.”
It is important for kids to have a positive environment to encourage healthy living. Aisling Pigott, a British Dietetic Association spokesman, says: “As children grow older, more influence comes from peers, social media and outside the home. This can be so hard for parents.”
The good news is there are many ways you can influence a healthy lifestyle — without a strict diet.
We reveal how . . .
FOCUS ON FOODS
EXPERTS say not to focus on calories or weight, but on foods and their benefits.
Dr Laura Jackson, a psychologist, says: “Remember that healthy eating isn’t ‘dieting’.
“If kids ask about the food they are eating, tell them where it comes from and why it’s good to be eating it.”
Protein helps with muscle growth and repair, healthy fats support concentration in class and carbohydrates provide energy.
Fibre is essential for digestive health and keeps you feeling full.
AVOID using terms relating to weight, such as “obese” or “fat”, including about yourself.
Aisling says: “Young people are growing up with such confusing messages about weight, and body image concerns are at an all-time high.
“Often, parents tell me, ‘I have a difficult relationship with food and I don’t want this for my child’.
“Sometimes we need to start healing our own mind and body to show young people how to nourish and respect their body.”
Dr Laura adds: “Make sure that throughout the process the focus is on health and confidence rather than body shape and size.”
Talk about the “dos” of healthy eating – like trying new colourful vegetables – rather than the “don’ts”, and avoid labelling foods “good” and “bad”.
IT’S normal for youngsters to get hungry between meals. Rhiannon explains: “Get to know the times that your child asks for snacks during the day and make sure you are ready with healthier, higher quality snacks to give to them, or make sure they have this option in their bags if they will be on their own.
“Swap sugary and processed snacks such as sweets and crisps for fruit and nut butters, homemade flapjacks, vegetable sticks and hummus, or homemade trail mix with seeds and dried fruits.”
Shop the supermarket shelves with your teenager to find healthy but tasty snacks they will find as satisfying as biscuits, cakes and chocolate after school.
STOP stocking the cupboards with fizzy drinks which are “extremely high in sugar and calories”.
Rhiannon says: “Try swapping these for flavoured fizzy water instead, which still gives your child a sweet taste.”
COOK FROM SCRATCH
COOKING from scratch as a busy parent is time-consuming.
So batch cook, freeze meals or write down a structured meal plan ahead of the week.
Rhiannon says: “Swap shop-bought oven chips, which are often high in saturated fats, for homemade baked potato wedges with the skin.
“Cut up a potato into chips, cover with a little olive oil and pop in the oven until crisp (around 30 minutes).
“Try ditching pre-made sauces that are often high in sugar and calories, for tinned tomatoes and dried herbs – a great substitute for pre-made bolognese sauce, and cheaper too.”
PROPER PACKED LUNCH
A PACKED lunch of white bread, crisps and chocolate bars can affect children’s weight, teeth and energy at school.
Rhiannon says: “A balanced lunchbox for children is very similar to that of adults, although portion sizes will differ depending on ages.
“Make sure they are getting a variety of proteins from either animal or plant-based sources (cheese, meat, eggs), healthy fats (nuts, avocado), fruit and veg, wholegrains and starchy carbohydrates (wholemeal bread, pitta or tortillas).”
For more tips and advice on this topic, check out Rhiannon’s ebook A Simple Way To Build A Lunchbox (£9.99) at rhitrition.com.
GETTING the whole family on board will remove the idea that your child is being “punished”.
Dr Laura says: “Encourage things like shopping for the ingredients and cooking together, and being outside by going on walks or cycling as a family.”
Eat at the table as a family where possible.
Aisling says: “Encourage mindful eating and screen-free meals so young people can learn about hunger and fullness.”
You’re more likely to eat slowly and feel satisfied when you focus on your food – not the TV.
SLOW and steady will give your family time to adapt.
Dr Laura says: “Start with swapping a few healthy snacks, reduce portion sizes and then encourage exercise, rather than doing it all on day one.”
Trying to find ways to get your child to exercise more?
“Ask them if they want to start up a new sport or hobby that includes movement,” Dr Laura says.
“Or just put on their favourite music and dance in the living room.”
OUT OF SIGHT
TEENAGERS are often out of the house when eating.
Aisling says: “Discuss realistic frequencies and sensible alternatives of foods such as takeaways.
“I encourage teenagers to think about takeaways as something to be consumed as occasional items.
“Teenagers want to please their friends.
“It may be that they choose to have takeaways with their buddies on a weekend, but then other meals are more nutritious during the week.
“A blanket ‘no’ never really works.”