Your child and their weight - where do you start?

Language is an odd thing. Take the term 'bonny' - if you live in Scotland, it's pretty standard to use it to refer to an attractive young woman. In England, the same term is pretty much unknown for adults, yet we still refer to 'bonny babies'. What most people actually mean from this compliment, when they're referring to babies, is plump. Yet overweight babies are far more likely to grow into obese adults - weight is no laughing matter.

Of course a century or two ago, when people in the Western world still regularly died from starvation, a 'bonny' baby was more likely to survive to adulthood than a skinny, sickly looking one. But a century ago, one in five children entering reception at primary school wasn't obese or overweight, as they are today. And the figure for 10- to 11-year-olds is one in three.

Children weighing more than ideal is not a new thing - after all, we were using the term 'puppy fat' half a century ago. But it is getting more common - in 1995, one in five children aged 11 to 15 years and just one in 10 children aged two to 10 years was obese. And it's not because of starvation - in fact, the more deprived the area, the more likely children are to be overweight. This, of course, may well reflect the fact while very few children have too little to eat because they can't afford it, unhealthy foods do tend to be cheaper. The more affluent the area you come from, the more fruit and veg on your plate - although even children in the richest households eat way less than the recommended five portions a day.

But exercise - or lack of it - plays a major part too. For children aged under five, guidelines recommend at least three hours of physical activity every day. For those aged five to 15 years the target is an hour a day of 'moderate to vigorous' physical activity. In fact, only 21% of boys and 16% of girls meet these targets in England. Again, there's a socio-economic divide - the more deprived the region, the less likely children are to be physically active.

As a parent, there are lots that you can do - and it doesn't need to cost a fortune.

Sugar is great places to start - all UK children, regardless of age or family income, on average have too much sugar in their diets. Sugar provides completely empty calories, with no nutritional goodness at all. A single portion of some sugary drinks contains the equivalent of eight sugar cubes - and when guidelines say four- to six-year-olds shouldn't have more than the equivalent of five sugar cubes a day, seven- to 10-year-olds no more than six cubes and 11- to 15-year-olds up to seven sugar cubes, the figures just don't stack up

Pure fruit juice does contain vitamins which are important for your child's health. But it also contains more sugar than you might think - so water down fruit juice and stick to one portion (150 ml - a small glass) a day, taken with food

Milk is a great alternative, with calcium for strong bones and teeth and no added sugar. Water, of course, doesn't have added sugar either!

Be a role model. You may be exhausted when you come in from work, but don't give your kids the idea that flopping down on the sofa with a family bag of crisps is the best way to reward yourself for hard work. If they take that message away, they'll carry it with them for life. You may be surprised to hear that regular exercise is actually a really effective way to combat tiredness. So dust off your bicycle or wrap up and head to the park with a Frisbee - give them the message that being active is fun

Consider joining up for Change4life - you and your child will both get a personal activity plan, tailored to what you're most likely to enjoy

Major on fruit, veg and starchy foods (such as potatoes, wholemeal bread and pasta) in your child's diet. Almost any fruit and veg count - fresh, frozen or tinned (tinned fruit in juice rather than syrup)

Swap high sugar cereals for sugar-free ones, with chopped up or dried fruit to make them interesting

Swap after-school chocolate bars for fruited teacakes or malt loaf - and encourage your friends to do the same for their kids (to keep cries of 'it's not fair!' to a minimum)

Swap stodgy puddings for low fat, low sugar yoghurts

Don't pile the plates. Portion sizes across the world have increased steadily over the last 20 years, for children as well as adults. Yet it stands to reason that with kids being less physically active than ever, loading up the portions means piling on the pounds. Try using smaller size plates and don't insist they eat everything on their plate if they say they're full

Limit screen time. Whether it's TV, laptops, mobiles or games consoles, limit this time to two hours a day. Encourage them to try other activities, whether it's playing football or tag outside or playing a board/card game as a family. If they're used to spending every waking hour playing electronic games or watching TV, it'll take a while for them to get used to a new way of entertaining themselves, so you may need to cut down their 'electronic fixes' gradually

Never let your child have electronic equipment in their bedrooms at night - it'll encourage them to stay up (and young people really do need their sleep) and the quality of light emitted by electronic devices can interfere with sleep quality

If you're struggling to make changes, visit the MEND programme. They have an amazing array of free courses for youngsters of all ages - and their families - to get active and learn about a healthier lifestyle.

Above all, remember that you're doing your child a favour. Your youngster may not thank you at first for trying to get them more active, or limiting their chocolate supply. But young people with weight problems are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence and bullying. Of course you want the best for your child - and a little tough love could do them one great big favour.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.