Health is a Weighty Issue
If there was ever a year to get in shape and lose a few pounds then 2012 is it! A feast of major sporting events begins in a few months’ time that’s sure toinspire budding young athletes across the country. This is also a great time to gently encourage those children who may be sporting a few extra pounds to get motivated, to get fit and supplement this new fitness regime with a healthier diet too.
As children grow and change shape it may not always be obvious for parents to recognise when their child is carrying an extra bit of weight, but recent statistics (Growing Up in Ireland: The National Longitudinal Study of Children 2011) showed that around a quarter of nine-year olds were classed as either overweight (Girls 22%, Boys 19%) or obese (8% and 5% respectively).
Needless to say these are statistics that we mustn’t ignore, but the question is – how can we accurately judge a child’s growth and how can we persuade a child to exercise more and favour nutritious snacks over crisps and sweets?
Measuring a child's weight and Body Mass Index
It’s easy to ask a child to stand on the bathroom scales to get a precise reading of their weight, but how do you know if this is okay for their stage of development or if they would be regarded as overweight?
Obesity and being overweight are terms to describe an excess of body fat and the best method of measuring this is by using the Body Mass Index. This is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in metres.
It is important not to use adult BMI charts to measure your child’s BMI as children’s bodies are continually developing, and the readings will fluctuate as they reach different stages of development. Similarly, it is also worth noting that different measurements are used to assess the BMI of boys to that of girls.
You can discover if your child has a healthy weight by talking to your child’s doctor or school nurse; or you may wish to use an online BMI calculator like the one at Weight Concern - www.weightconcern.org.uk.
If your child needs to lose a few pounds, then the best way to encourage healthy weight loss is by combining a healthy well-balanced diet with regular exercise.
A Well Balanced Diet
Calorie counting at a young age is not often advised but it’s worth knowing that the recommended calorie daily intake for girls is 1850 calories and 2200 for boys. Smaller portion sizes and putting a limitation on snacks usually does the trick to reduce the daily calorie intake although it’s worth being mindful to the content of your child’s diet. The Irish Heart Foundation suggests there are many ways to improve a child’s diet – here are some of them:
• Encourage a breakfast of wholegrain cereals topped with low fat yoghurt and fruit to help a child reach their five-a-day target.
• Pack lunchboxes with healthy eating options, like pittas and bagels, low-fat yoghurt and a small packet of dried fruits.
• For after-school snacks make sure there are fruit and nuts to hand. Beans on toast or mashed banana sandwiches are healthy ideas for really hungry children.
• Blend fresh fruits together into a smoothie instead of offering sugary, fizzy drinks.
• Set a good example by eating healthily yourself!
Fitness for Families
Children need to engage in physical activities of at least a moderate intensity for 60 minutes every day of the week. So, what are the best ways to persuade the children to get active? Well it will certainly help if exercise is fun and involves friends or family. Fun family activities can include anything from cycling on a track by the river, to going for a family swim at the local pool, from walking to school to learning new dance techniques using a gaming console. No longer are gaming consoles such as a Wii, Kinect or Playstation, regarded as sources of lethargy and inactivity. Many families are happy to jump off the sofa to play active and social games in the comfort of their living room. As the programmes are often varied, this alleviates the boredom settling in. This extra social activity will contribute nicely towards your child's 60 minutes of exercise a day.
Family friendly websites that are good for your health!
- The World Cancer Research Fund’s (WCRF) Great Grub Club website aimed at 4 to 7 year olds, demonstrates the healthy lifestyle message in a fun way. Go to www.greatgrubclub.com.
- The Irish Heart Foundation’s website has a section for parents with ideas for healthy eating and active living, recipes and more. www.irishheart.ie
- The NHS Health and Fitness for Families pages offer a complete well-being guide on one website. Find out your BMI, complete an online fitness assessment, plus take a psychological and aptitude test to find out what sport is best for you! Go to www.nhs.uk/livewell/fitness/Pages/Fitnesshome.aspx
- The NHS 5-A-Day website includes fun and games for the children. Go to www.nhs.uk/livewell/5aday
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