We all seem to be obsessed with weight these days, even where children are concerned – on the one hand, the headlines are full of heavy-handed letters to parents from the authorities, telling them their children are overweight; on the other, parents are terrified about anorexic-looking role models for their pre-teen daughters. Surely children should be left alone, and we should avoid banging on about weight in case we give them a complex about it? Do we really need a National Childhood Obesity week?
Sadly, it’s not that simple, as 40-70% of obese children grow up into obese adults, with all the problems of diabetes and heart disease that brings. In the UK, obesity among adults has trebled in the last 30 years and, unfortunately, children are getting fatter at every age. Since 1995, the number of boys in the obese range has increased from 11% to 17%, with an increase from 12% to 16% among girls. By the time they start school, almost 1 in 10 children is obese, and almost 1 in 20 is in that category by the time they leave primary school. A major UK study suggests that unless we all start to take action, by 2050 2 in 3 children will be overweight.
Overweight children aren’t just storing up problems for later life. They’re more likely to have low self-esteem, and sadly more likely to be bullied. So many parents I see in my consulting room are desperate to give their children the best start in life, but aren’t sure how to talk to their children about their weight, or how to help them. They may find it hard to know how to eat really healthily on a budget – only one third of adults in the UK meet the government target of five-a-day for fruit and vegetables. They may find it difficult to help their child stay active enough - only two thirds of boys and half of girls do the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
Patient (www.patient.info) offers lots of practical tips on how parents can improve not just their child’s health but help the family at the same time. For one-to-one support, the MEND programme has a nationwide network of local groups which offer workshops to children and their parents to give them the skills, knowledge and incentive they need to work on their weight. Most referrals come from GPs, school nurses and teachers, but parents and carers can also refer children themselves. If we’re going to beat the statistics, we need to work together towards a healthier future.
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