Vicky Mirceta on Is prevention better than a cure?
You may be thinking “Well.....duh!” right? But, if we’re all thinking that, why are we all waiting until it’s almost “too late” to make a difference?
I’m talking about the absolute crisis that we are seeing these days regarding obesity, not just in the UK, or America but ALL OVER THE WORLD.
Worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980.
In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 600 million were obese. These adults all had to start somewhere right? Now, in the same year, 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese (WHO, 2014) and the most shocking factor of all is.........
Obesity is preventable!
The World Health Organization (WHO) regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. Obese children and adolescents are at an increased risk of developing various health problems, and are also more likely to become obese adults. However, if we as parents of these children actually start to implement various strategies, we can actually reverse any damage that has already been done to our children, as also prevent it from happening in the years to come.
I know what you’re thinking, children can be fussy when it comes to meals and various foods that “look” green and healthy. “Veggies are yuk right!” Well, if children are exposed to fruits, vegetables and a multitude of foods from a very young age, they will have a pallet that will be accustomed to the flavours and actually want to “crave” those foods.
Studies undertaken at the University of Sheffield, have shown that by adopting a flexible dieting approach – meaning we include some of our own favourite foods in our weight loss plan – we, as adults adhere to a “diet plan” and keep the weight off. If this works as adults, then why can’t it work for kids? Yes, kids like chocolate and pizza and chicken nuggets and chips, but they can also like, fresh fish with plenty of veggies and maybe some boiled potatoes or how about a home-made turkey Bolognese?
Throughout my years as a mum, I have learnt what works well and not so well with children. My son was a ridiculously fussy eater, but now loves all different kinds of food, admires chefs from around the world and can identify each macro that is on his plate........and he’s only 7. My daughter went from being lazy and wanting to watch TV on her weekends to actually getting up with me at 5am to join me on a power walk.
More studies conducted over a number of years found that children will eat what mum & dad eat, they will also eat what’s put in front of them if the behaviour WE use is consistent. Parental behaviours has a massive influence on children’s eating behaviours too. Have you ever noticed that when Dad is tinkering away in his shed workshop building something, his son is playing next to him copying his hammering with his own tool set? Food and eating behaviours are no different. It is also found that food is a social event, and is encouraged not just to promote healthy eating behaviours but to promote a “togetherness” as a family unit. We can sit down with our kids and eat the same meal, fitting in a dessert should we want one, and our kids have that with us too, thus adopting a healthy relationship with food and a healthy family relationship with food and meal times as well.
The American Journal of nutrition took on a study regarding fast food consumption. It stated that the association of fast food consumption was directly correlated to poor dietary outcomes and obesity among children. Now I’m not saying that the odd take-a-way is a bad thing, however this is what we have to take into consideration, moderation is the key here, and if we’re all busy and had some hard days at work, yes it’s easier to phone someone else to cook dinner for you. But we must be adults about it and find balance to our nutrition. The idea that fast food is the culprit for the childhood obesity crisis is absurd, it’s the quantity that is the problem.
Do you remember the days when mum & dad used to say “If you don’t finish your broccoli you can’t have pudding”? It’s exactly that kind of sentence that can create an unhealthy approach and resentment towards healthy foods, and create the possibility of over eating. Each meal and new food can be made interesting, exciting and a pleasure to try. How about turning that meal into a funny face on a plate? Turn a piece of toast, peanut butter and fruit into an owl, make a bunny rabbit out of some protein pancakes – kids love it!
How about getting kids active? When I was young, we took part in physical education 5 days a week for an hour in school time.....and I used to run around the playground like a nutter probably burning well over 1000 calories just from that!
I mentioned that my daughter comes on a power walk with me at 5am, well this is an extreme I agree, and most kids won’t want to do that, they find walking boring, so the best approach is to try loads of different activities you can do together to see which one they prefer best. Why do we say FIND THE ONE THEY PREFER? Because if they like it, they’ll keep doing it – creating consistency which forms a healthy habit. Habits that are formed in this way carry on into adulthood........maybe preventing obesity in the long run?
Football, rock climbing (indoors and outdoors), dancing, swimming, gymnastics, trampolining, stuck in the mud or British Bulldog – all mega fun activities that can be easily done on their own or as a family. Got a back garden? Make your own obstacle assault course and chase each other with Nerf guns! (I still do this and actually hide when my husband comes home from work so I get the first shot off!)
Healthy habits don’t need to be boring or mundane. By making health “fun” it becomes enjoyable, sustainable and makes goals achievable. This is not just about aesthetics or self esteem any more – kids are coming into hospital and having major surgeries due to a poor lifestyle and we as parents have a duty of care to our kids to prevent this from happening. If you have a healthy mindset, which I’m pretty sure you do otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article, instil that ideology onto your kids from now. That idea of health will stay with them, especially if they see their role models living up to it themselves.
We won’t all get it right the first time, but practice makes perfect and you will, in time, make the perfect bunny rabbit from some protein pancakes!
Vicky Mirceta – Sports Performance Nutritionist, Mum of two, Natural Bodybuilding Champion, British Bench Champion 2019/2020 U52’a & registered Adult nurse.
1: How do parents’ child feeding behaviours influence child weight? Implications for childhood obesity policy. H.R. Clarke et al, University of Sheffield, 2014
2: Parental influence on eating behaviour. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. 2012
3: The association of fats food consumption with poor dietary outcomes & obesity among children. The American Journal of nutrition. 2014.
4: WHO – Obesity sources, 2014.