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Balancing the Next Generation.

If children are our future – and current trends continue – then the future for Australia appears fat! Given the alarming growth in the number of overweight and obese children, it is critical that we find ways to reverse this disturbing trend.

Some alarming statistics to consider:

According to Nutrition Australia, 25% of Australian children are overweight or obese.

Children with overweight parents are much more likely to be overweight themselves.

Obese children have up to 50% chance of being obese adults.

Obese teens have almost an 80% chance of being obese adults.

The first step to reducing the chances of struggling with weight for a lifetime is to identify which children are most at risk. Decades ago - when childhood obesity was rare – it was easy to identify the overweight child in the playground. Now, overweight children are common place, and it is easy to forget that a little extra “puppy fat” is not healthy.

Is a child you know overweight? Spend 30 seconds on the NSW Government’s Childhood Obesity site and see just how they stack up. This BMI Calculator (Body Mass Indicator) takes just seconds to complete and may provide a useful tool.

If you do know a child who is overweight, the steps you take in rectifying the issue are extremely important and must be tackled with sensitivity. Remember, what makes this issue so complex is that short term weight loss itself is not the primary aim. Achieving a healthy weight must be balanced with issues like body image, self esteem, physical fitness and of primary importance giving the child an understanding of nutrition that will prepare them for life.

The point is not to force a child to be “the perfect weight” (if there is such a thing), and increase their chance of developing an eating disorder or a hatred of their body in later life. The point is to make small gradual changes as a family that reinforce:

There are “everyday foods” (meat, vegetables, nuts, fruit etc) and “sometimes foods” (chips, confectionery, highly processed cakes and bread etc). The sometimes foods are fine to eat, but only sometimes – not everyday. (see this article for more information).

Quality food is something to be enjoyed in moderation (i.e. eat only until you are content – not overfull which can happen if we make children eat everything they are served).

Unhealthy food (often referred to as “a treat”) is not a reward for being good. (This can lead to bad habits and emotional eating in later life).

Some form of FUN exercise each day is an important part of a vital and healthy life.

Remember, what we teach our children about food, nutrition, cooking, and exercise will have a massive impact on the length and quality of their life.

(Dealing with overweight children requires great care. We recommend talking with a health professional who is experienced in this area.)