Leanne Hawker discusses the growing weight issue for both adults and children across the UK
As a nation it’s a fact that we’re getting bigger, plates are bigger, portions are bigger, biscuits are bigger and now we’re bigger!
Being overweight has become so normalised we don’t even recognise it anymore and can lead to us failing to see it in our own children.
This is most certainly not a criticism. For many of us food has been attached to our emotions for our whole lives, if we were good we might get a sweet treat. If we were ‘naughty’ we might not be allowed those things. If we were sad our families may have given us our favourite dinner to cheer us up. If we were happy we might celebrate with a meal out or a cake! Food can be very comforting, it can be a way of showing someone you love them or just that you care. I know that as a parent I have given food treats and shown my child I love them by making their favourite dishes.
Should we really be worried?*
- It’s estimated that by 2050, 50% of women and 60% of men will be obese! What’s more worrying is that those people will be our children in their adult lives.
- 1 in 3 children in year 6 is obese or overweight.
- An obese child has a 40% chance of becoming an obese adult and a child who is obese at 15 has a 70% chance of becoming an obese adult.
- Overweight and obese children can experience more stigma, poorer self-esteem and bullying.
- Retailers are now offering plus size school uniforms, a sure sign that obesity is on the rise.
I previously worked with young people in secondary schools delivering 1-2-1 motivational coaching sessions and probably 90% of them would circle ‘healthy weight’ as one of the things they wanted to work on. When I asked them what life would look like if they reached their ideal weight they would often answer that they would feel more confident, be able to enjoy shopping, join in more things, go out with their friends etc. Their feelings about their weight really affected their whole life. Even those children who weren’t overweight chose healthy eating as a goal with many saying they ate crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks every day.
So, what can we do? Firstly, you don’t need to be an expert to raise the issue of weight. Just wanting to do what’s best for your child is a great starting point.
- Lead by example! Our children learn from us first and foremost. Look at your health habits – what do you choose to eat and drink? Maybe you’re eating habits are disordered – are you always flitting from diet to diet? You don’t need to be overweight to have an unhealthy relationship with food.
- The Eatwell Guide can be a handy way of seeing what foods should make up most of your diet. Don’t turn to faddy diets, which can often be expensive with short term results.
- Get healthy as a family. This will also help if you are overweight. You can all support each other, particularly when tempted to go back to your old ways. Look for ways to be active together too and remember we all started somewhere.
- Don’t see foods as good and bad. Everything is ok in a balanced diet and that is the key. However, as soon as we ban a certain food or food group what happens? We want it so much more!!!! Just don’t keep fatty or sugary foods in the house and then if you decide you want something just buy it then and only enough for your needs. A lot of strong will is needed to pretend those hobnobs aren’t in the cupboard!
- Be sensitive. Your child may already be upset about their weight so try to take their feelings into account when raising the subject. Find out how they feel and talk about the health benefits.
- You’ll know if you’re losing weight by how you look and how your clothes feel. You don’t need to get scale obsessed. Weigh yourself once a week at most if you want to use this as a tracker, but remember weight fluctuates for many reasons so don’t get disheartened if the scale doesn’t change.
- Use rewards other than food for children. Maybe a family film evening, a bike ride or playing a board game instead.
- Change your shopping list. Stop buying crisps, biscuits and sweets – we don’t need these foods to survive, so leave them on the shelf! Many of the young people I worked with said it was difficult to eat healthily as there was too much temptation at home.
- Get your children involved in finding healthier foods they will enjoy. Change 4 Life has loads of great recipes, which are perfect for family mealtimes. Encourage your children to think about what they eat and start taking responsibility for healthy choices.
- You can always ask for help from your GP or the school. The school nurse scheme is designed to help with health issues in young people.
Remember you’re doing this because you love your children and want them to have the healthiest life possible. You can make a difference!
Stay healthy – Leanne Hawker
*Statistics from Kent Community Health Foundation Trust