In South Africa, excess body weight is a massive problem, but not only in adults – 13% .More than 17% of South African children between the ages of 7 and 16 living in urban areas are overweight, according to a report by the Medical Research Council of South Africa. This is of great concern, as American studies have found that overweight or obese children tend to remain overweight or obese to the age of 20 and are exposed to a 1.5 to 2 times higher risk of being obese adults. Obese adults in turn face the risk of increased heart disease, diabetes, joint and gall-bladder disease, and a lifetime of trying to shed those unwanted kilograms.
Cultural beliefs and poor knowledge of the consequences of obesity lulls many parents into inaction. Childhood obesity is not prevented, recognized or treated adequately. New figures from the World Obesity Federation estimate that by 2025, 3.91 million South African school children will be overweight or obese. This will result in 123 000 children with impaired glucose tolerance, 68 000 with overt diabetes, 460 000 with high blood pressure, and 637 000 with first stage fatty liver disease.
The current status of obesity among South African children is comparable to that found in developed countries more than a decade ago. Therefore, children living in South Africa are very much part of the rising epidemic of childhood obesity.
If you want your child to lose weight: Don’t tell them that: Doing so may raise their risk of developing unhealthy habits or even an eating disorder. The focus should be on a healthy lifestyle rather than on weight.
Young people who lose large amounts of weight through unhealthy eating behaviours such as extreme low-calorie fad diets, purging after meals, or abuse of laxatives, can end up facing an array of health problems. Dangerous consequences can include hypothermia (lower-than-normal body temperature), bradycardia (an abnormally slow heart rate), hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure), acute pancreatitis, and gallstones.
Commenting on weight: – their appearance or the number on a scale – when talking to children especially teens can be harmful and may even lead to these very behaviours. Understanding that poor body image can lead to an ED [eating disorder], parents should avoid comments about body weight and discourage dieting efforts that may inadvertently result in EDs and body dissatisfaction to combat this parents, should focus on instilling healthy habits in their children, encouraging a positive body image, asking them how they feel about their bodies, and discussing the importance of all food groups in their daily lives.
Avoid using words like “diet,” “fat,” and “goal weight. Focusing on weight – even little comments such as ‘Ooh, I see a little tummy pouch there’ – can be damaging.
Here are a couple of tips for parents to encourage a healthy lifestyle in their children:
- Watch your words. Young children and teens are very perceptive. If they hear parents say from an early age thing like “I hate my fat thighs,” they will be more attuned to looking for the negatives in themselves. Words can leave emotional scars, so be cautious of saying things such as “you’re lazy” or “you’re fat.”
- Aim for at least one family meal per day. If you find family dinner isn’t always feasible due to extracurricular activities or an otherwise busy schedule, aim for family breakfast. It might mean getting up a few minutes earlier, but it still accomplishes the same goals.
- Have fruits and vegetables readily available on the counter or fridge. Leave them washed and at eye level so it’s easy for kids to grab and go.
- limit energy intake from total fats and sugars
increase consumption of legumes, whole grains and nuts
- Get your child involved in the kitchen. Even if you as a parent “can’t cook,” think of this as an opportunity to learn together. Start by shopping and picking out new healthy foods to try. Get in the kitchen and try a new recipe together. Not only will you will be teaching skills, you’ll be making great memories together.
- Take the TV out of your child ‘s’ room. Many children and teens tend to eat and watch TV in their rooms. Taking the TV out will limit their screen time and encourage more family time.
- Schedule physical activity as part of your family’s routine. Make walks, runs, games, bike rides, or hikes part of your weekly schedule. 60 minutes a day. This sets a great example that being active is part of a healthy lifestyle.
- Be a good role model. If you want your child to eat their veggies that means you need to eat them, too. If you want them to exercise, they’ve got to see you doing it.