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Helping overweight kids - A parent's guide

By Matt O'Neill, MSc(Nut&Diet), APD

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As many as 25 per cent of Australian children are overweight. And rates of obesity are rising alarmingly, having doubled in just 10 years. Dietitian Catherine Saxelby gives parents 20 tips to help their children fight fat.

1. Clean up your act.
Set a good example - eat right by eating well yourself. Research shows that the eating habits of parents are closely related to the weight of their children.

2. Rewards
Don't use food as a reward for good behaviour.

3. Meals sizes
Young kids need to eat small and often but that doesn't mean they should graze all day long. Keep meals regular with a small snack in between.

4. Drink more water
Make water the main family drink with meals. Cordial, fruit juice and soft drink are high in sugar and too easy to have too much of.

5. Respect your child's appetite
Your child's appetite will vary so allow them to determine how much they need to eat. By forcing them to eat more, they loose the ability to know how much is enough.

6. Limit junk
Don't buy junk food. Keep it for special occasions or only outings.

7. Turn off the TV
The evidence is overwhelming - too much TV helps make our kids fat! Experts recommend TV viewing should be limited to a maximum of one hour a day.

8. Monitor school food
Find out what's available at school. If there aren't many healthy alternatives, limit canteen to once a week.

9. Think long term
Don't expect rapid weight loss. It often takes a year for your child's weight to slim down as he/she grows in height.

10. Snack right
Much of the reason for kids' weight problems is that `snack foods' are not suitable snacks - they're loaded with fat, sugar or salt.

11. Get active
Turn off the TV and head outdoors to kick a ball in the back yard, go cycling or visit the park - anything to get your kids moving. Have fun!

12. Go low fat
If your child is two or over, low-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese are suitable.

13. Don't skip brekkie
Overweight people tend to skip breakfast. Get your kids into the good habit early on.

14. Breastfeed
Breastfeed your child if you can as this has been shown to protect against weight problems later in life.

15. Strike a balance
Don't ban any food completely. By forbidding foods, you only make them more desirable.

16. Get physical
Make an effort to do physical activity in your child's life. Putting them in charge of walking the dog every day is a good start.

17. Tread carefully
Don't make derogatory comments about your child's shape or weight or they may start to label themselves, thinking "I'm a fat pig" or "I'm no good". This will not do them any favours.

18. Slow down
If your schedule is so busy that you often have to resort to high-fat take away dinners, you need to slow down. A home-cooked meal is better for everyone but it does take more time.

19. Be positive
There's lots of yummy foods they CAN eat like fruit, breads, cereals, yoghurt, meat and eggs. Don't dwell on what they CAN'T eat.

20. Eating to cope
Look at when and why your child eats. Is he/she unhappy? Are they stressed? Are they being teased at school? Kids, like adults, use food to cope with difficult times or to fill a void - it may be the reason why they're too heavy.

(C) Catherine Saxelby, Reprinted with kind permission.

Useful links: Catherine Saxelby's website where you can subscribe to Catherine's free newsletter.



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