1 in 4 Australian children (25%) are overweight or obese. Ages 2-17.
Obesity is defined as an excess of body fat that is measured by ones BMI.
As obese children also tend to be obese in later life, it is important for parents to set the right example for their children at an early age.
Obese and overweight children are likely to remain so and this increases the chance of developing a range of medical conditions later in life, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.
The rate of type 2 diabetes is continuing to rise in children and adolescents. Other problems occurring at a higher rate in overweight children include sleep apnoea, heat intolerance, breathlessness on exertion, tiredness and flat feet. Being overweight can also make a child more vulnerable to decreased self-esteem and using unhealthy dietary practices to attempt to achieve weight control.
What causes obesity in children?
There are multiple causes that include environmental factors, lifestyle preferences, and cultural environment which all play pivotal roles in the rising prevalence of obesity worldwide. Family characteristics, parenting style and parents’ lifestyles also play a role. Although many believe genetics play a large role in obesity, the genetic factor accounts for less than 5% of cases of childhood obesity.
There is supporting evidence that excessive sugar intake by soft drinks, increased portion sizes, and a steady decline in physical activity have been playing major roles in the rising rates of obesity in Australia.
What does it mean for my child?
Without intervention childhood obesity can not only profoundly affect your child’s physical health but it can also greatly impact their social and emotional well-being. It is also associated with poor academic performance and a lower quality of life experienced by the child.
Furthermore it could lead to:
Anxiety – in a clinical sample of obese adolescents, a higher life-time prevalence of anxiety disorders was reported compared to non-obese controls.
Low self esteem – obese children have lower self-esteem compared to healthy weight children.
Body dissatisfaction – there is a linear relationship between body dissatisfaction and increasing BMI for girls; while for boys a U-shaped relationship suggests that boys with BMIs at the low and high extremes experience high levels of body dissatisfaction
Eating disorder – higher prevalence of eating-related pathology (i.e. Anorexia, Bulimia Nervosa, and impulse regulation) in obese children/youth
Socio-emotional consequences – overweight and obese children are often teased and/or bullied for their weight. They also face numerous other hardships including negative stereotypes, discrimination, and social marginalization. These negative social problems contribute to low self esteem, low self confidence, and a negative body image in children and can also affect academic performance.
As a parent, what can I do?
The types of food available in the house and the food preferences of family members can influence the foods that children eat. In addition, family mealtimes can influence the type of food consumed and the amount thereof. Lastly, family habits, whether they are sedentary or physically active, influence the child.
Childhood obesity can be avoided and can be reversed.
A few quick tips to get you on your way!
Sugary drinks – not only soft drinks but fruit juices as well
Snack foods – chips, baked goods, and lollies
Large portion sizes
Sedentary lifestyle – each additional hour of screen time per day increased the prevalence of obesity by 2%
Food as a reward – The use of food can encourage the development of an unhealthy relationship with food
A nutrient dense sample meal plan may look like this:
Breakfast: Traditional oats (or overnight oats) soaked/cooked in full cream milk or almond milk with plain yoghurt and fresh or stewed berries and a sprinkle of hemp seeds or LSA
Morning Tea: Fruit break – an apple, banana, kiwi or any other seasonal fruit
Lunch: Boiled egg and avo smash wholemeal sandwich
Recess: Carrot/celery/capsicum sticks
Afternoon tea: A handful of raw nuts (minimal dried fruit) or veggie sticks with hummus
Dinner: Baked wild-caught fish* drizzled with Jimalie Virgin Coconut Oil and a squeeze of lemon served with roast sweet potato and steamed broccoli, corn on the cob, carrots and green beans.
*Note: ensure fish is wild-caught of smaller species to avoid heavy metal contamination
Some other great snack options for school or afternoon tea can include:
Veggie sticks with nut butter (ensure no added sugar or preservatives)
Smoothies – made with frozen banana, almond milk, nuts and seeds
Coconut yogurt with seasonal fruit
Homemade popcorn (not microwave popcorn)
Children can get all the vitamins and minerals they need through eating a fresh, wholefood diet with minimal pre-packaged foods and snacks as well as substituting soft drinks, cordial and fruit juice with water.
Whilst it is ideal to obtain adequate vitamin and mineral intake through food, there are times when additional nutrients through supplementation are necessary.
Key nutrients your nutritionist may consider are:
Probiotics – Recent evidence suggests that gut microbiota is involved in the control of body weight, energy homeostasis and inflammation and thus, plays a role in the pathophysiology of obesity.
RDI – There are no reported recommended intakes of probiotics. Therapeutic dose – Therapeutic dose is standardised and should contain between 1×10⁹ and 1×10¹¹ CFU/g. Dosages vary for children. 0-1 year olds have 1/8 adult dose, 1-2 year olds have ¼ adult dose, 2-5 year olds have 1/3 adult dose, 5-12 year olds have ½ adult dose and 12 years + have adult dose. Cautions – Probiotics can have an interaction and be impacted by antibiotics. Best to separate administration of probiotics and antibiotics by at least 2 hours.
Fish Oil – Childhood is a period of brain growth and maturation. The long chain omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a major lipid in the brain recognized as essential for normal brain function.
RDI – There are no reported recommended intakes of fish oils. Therapeutic dose – 0.4g per day for 0-1 year olds, 0.75g for 1-2 year olds, 1g for 2-5 year olds, 1.5g for 5-12 year olds and 12years +is the adlut dose of 3g/day total omega-3 fatty acids. Cautions – Side effects of fish oils are unlikely and if so, are mild. Some may include gastrointestinal discomfort, halitosis (bad breath), fish odour of skin and urine. There are some significant interactions with some medications and if on medication please consult your practitioner prior to treatment. Fish oil should be taken with caution with medications including antiplatelet agents and anticoagulants such as warfarin and NSAIDs.
Zinc – It is believed that zinc is a vital nutrient for the brain, with important structural and functional roles. Zinc supplementation also has a positive effect on the immune status of infants and children.
RDI – 0-6months 2mg/day, 7-12 months 2.5mg/day, 1-3yr 3mg/day, 4-8yr 4mg/day, 9-13yr 6mg/day, 14-18yr (boys) 13mg/day, 14-18yr (girls) 7mg/day Therapeutic dose: Dosages vary for children. Adult dose average 50mg/day. 0-1 year olds have 1/8 adult dose, 1-2 year olds have ¼ adult dose, 2-5 year olds have 1/3 adult dose, 5-12 year olds have ½ adult dose and 12 years + have adult dose. Cautions: Mild gastrointestinal upset has been reported. NSAIDs, calcium supplementaion, coffee, iron supplementation, tetracyclines and quinolones require separating doses by 2 hours. Captopril and enalopril, folate and loop diuretics reduce zinc levels. High zinc supplementation interferes with copper metabolism. Avoid long term use.
Multivitamin – multivitamin and mineral supplementation can positively influence certain aspects of brain development in children
Chicken meatballs – a healthy alternative to chicken nuggets!
500g of organic or free-range chicken mince
1 grated carrot
1 grated zucchini
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small brown onion, finely chopped
2 organic or free-range eggs
1tbsp freshly finely chopped oregano
¼ cup of Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 tbsp of Jimalie Virgin Coconut Oil
Add all ingredients (except Jimalie VCO) in a bowl, using your hands knead mixture together to evenly combine.
Using your hands, roll to form mixture into 1-inch balls.
In a large non-stick skillet, warm coconut oil over medium heat.
Place meatballs in pan, up to 8 at a time and cook until all sides are brown, approximately 8 minutes for each meatball.
Remove from pan and serve with baked sweet potato and steamed veggies or salad or your favourite spaghetti sauce and wholemeal spaghetti.
Serves 4 (2 adults/2 children)
Braun and Cohen, 2013 p.1050
Written by Victoria Abraham – Qualified nutritionist and co-owner of Jimalie Coconut Products.