I once worked as an au-pair in a wealthy English family. The eleven year old girl had everything her heart desired - new toys, clothes, a new haircut every week. However, she was somewhat upset. After every outing in a shopping mall, her mother screamed at her that she was 'fat' and there was nothing that would suit her. That was almost twenty years ago. Unfortunately, the situation did not improve. In fact, we are heading to a fall.
Today, one in six children are overweight or obese. The obesity epidemic has spread even further in the last five years. In the US, the latest data show that the national childhood obesity rate among 2- to 19-year-olds is 18.5 percent. That means that more than 12 million U.S. children are obese! And while watching little Augustus in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory not fitting through the chocolate pipe might look funny, the trend of childhood obesity is not funny at all. Obese children have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol, major risk factors for heart disease. They can have bone and joint problems, as well as chronic health conditions such as asthma and type 2 diabetes.
The Causes of Childhood Obesity
As with adults, most children who are overweight or obese are not eating enough nutritious foods or getting sufficient physical activity. Plus, almost two-thirds of (not only) American youth consume a sugary beverage a day! Kids and teens spend hours watching television or using smartphones. However, it is fair to say, that many children live in food deserts where there are few places for their parents to buy healthy foods. Unhealthy foods are heavily marketed to children and as the substances in these foods are highly addictive, after eating them, kids crave them even more.
What You Can Do as a Parent
It is not children's will to become overweight or obese. It is our responsibility as parents to show them healthy eating habits. Unfortunately, not every parent knows or is willing to change his or her eating habits. Therefore, the school and the community should play a major role in supporting healthy habits as e.g. eating real food and exercise.
Read the labels: Many countries have implemented food labelling systems such as traffic-light system or five colour NutriScore label. Always check the label on a product for the amount of sugar and sodium. To be on the safe side though, buy only real food with as little ingredients as possible.
Teach your kids how to cook: My daughter is eight and she can prepare eggs, pancakes, pasta, cut veggies and fruit and bake a simple cake. It is not much but I fully encourage her to try more. And she loves it. Take your kids to a farmer's market and teach them to love seasonal real food.
Don't fall for advertising: The majority of food advertised is not suitable for human consumption anyway. Only a fool or a 2 year old would fall for a product with a red happy cow on it. Healthy food does not come in a package and does not need an advertisement.
Ban the 'resto': In France, many families eat out on a Sunday. Unfortunately, fast foods and restaurants with 'steak hache and frites' (burger and fries) have become a norm and most of the time it is the only thing you can find on a kid's menu. You can barely find organic produce in a restaurant, meals are filled with cheap processed oils and the salad literally 'swims' in mayonnaise. Also, if you or someone in your family has gluten or lactose sensitivity, restaurants are absolutely not a place of choice. We banned restaurants a long time ago and we cook at home from healthy ingredients.
Healthy kids will become healthy adults who can achieve their full potential. Believe me, after so many struggles with my own health, I treasure it above all and you should too.