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Does this nappy make me look fat?

image 365Does this nappy make me look fat?

There is an e-mail going around based on a popular greeting card that depicts a baby girl looking over her shoulder, with the words: “Does this nappy make me look fat?” This is an illustration of society’s obsession with a socially acceptable level of thinness and parents will be surprised at what age little girls are already exposed to the stereotype that you have to be thin to be accepted by your friends, otherwise they will make fun of you.

A report by the Medical Research Council of South Africa indicated that more than 17% of South African children between the ages of one and nine, living in urban areas, are overweight.

Causes of childhood obesity

Safety issues in our country often prevent children from playing outside (like we used to do 20 years back), and where children used to walk or cycle to school, many are now taken to school by their parents. Playstation and other TV games are also culprits to this new wave of obesity in children, although experts now agree that many factors, usually working in combination, increase your child's risk of becoming overweight:

  • Diet. Regular consumption of high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, baked goods and vending machine snacks, contribute to weight gain. High-fat foods are dense in calories. Loading up on soft drinks, candy and desserts can also cause weight gain. Foods and beverages like these are high in sugar and calories.
  • Inactivity. Sedentary kids are more likely to gain weight because they don't burn calories through physical activity. Inactive leisure activities, such as watching television or playing video games, contribute to the problem.
  • Genetics. If your child comes from a family of overweight people, he or she may be genetically predisposed to put on excess weight, especially in an environment where high-calorie food is always available and physical activity isn't encouraged.
  • Psychological factors. Some children overeat to cope with problems or to deal with emotions, such as stress or boredom. Their parents may have similar tendencies.
  • Family factors. Most children don't shop for the family's groceries. Indeed, parents are responsible for putting healthy foods in the kitchen at home and leaving unhealthy foods in the store. You can't blame your kids for being attracted to sweet, salty and fatty foods; after all, they taste good! But you can control much of their access to these foods, especially at home.
  • Socio-economic factors. Children from low-income backgrounds are at greater risk of becoming obese. Poverty and obesity often go hand in hand because low-income parents may lack the time and resources to make healthy eating and exercise a family priority.

Health problems related to childhood obesity

Eating disorders start in early childhood. Parenting educators and addictions counsellors agree that teaching your children healthy attitudes to food could save them a lifetime of struggle with obesity and associated health problems.

Being overweight raises a child's risk of:

  • Type 2 diabetes - especially in overweight children with a family history of type 2 diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular disease - including having a high cholesterol level and high blood pressure.
  • Sleep apnea - with loud snoring, labored breathing, and poor sleeping.
  • Hepatic steatosis - fatty degeneration of the liver, with raised liver function tests.
  • Asthma - although still controversial, many experts think that the rise in asthma and childhood obesity may be related.
  • Slipped capital femoral epiphysis - a cause of hip pain in children between the ages of 10 and 16, especially boys who are overweight.
  • Cholecystitis - gallballader disease and gallstones, with abdominal pain, fever and jaundice.
  • Pancreatitis - with upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever.
  • Pseudotumor cerebri - also called idiopathic intracranial hypertension, which can cause headaches and vision changes.
  • Becoming an overweight adult.

Being a role model

According to a study in the US journal Obesity Research, a mother's view on the importance of family dinner time may influence her child’s weight. When researchers evaluated data on almost 3,800 girls and boys, ranging in age from birth to 14 they found that 43% of their mothers said that they did not feel family meal times were important. Correspondingly, their children were 30% more likely to be overweight by the age of 14.
While studies aren’t conclusive about why girls seem to be so much more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder, it seems clear that gender plays a large role in the formation of attitudes towards food and eating. Since your baby’s most important role model is usually the same sex parent, it’s not surprising that she may adopt her mother’s issues around food and body image.

Helping your child beat obesity begins with helping him or her forge a healthy relationship with food. You may need to make major changes to your eating lifestyle.

  • Eat the rainbow. Serve and encourage consumption of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This should include red (beets, tomatoes), orange (carrots, squash), yellow (potatoes, bananas), green (lettuce, broccoli) and so on—just like eating a rainbow.
  • Make breakfast a priority. Children who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight or obese than those who skip the first meal of the day. Focus on healthy choices like oatmeal, fresh fruit, whole grain cereal, and low-fat milk.
  • Cut back on fat. Your child does need some fat to maintain good health, but these fats should come from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils. Cut back on fast food, junk food, and sweets.
  • Schedule regular meal times. The majority of children like routine. If your kids know they will only get food at certain times, they will be more likely to eat what they get when they get it.
  • Limit dining out. If you must eat out, avoid fast food and make the healthy, conscious choices you are trying to make at home.

image 518With smaller kids, picky eaters are going through a normal developmental stage, exerting control over their environment along with concern about trusting the unfamiliar. This often goes along with the “separate compartmented plate” stage, where children don’t like one type of food to touch or mingle with another. Research has shown that it takes the average child 8-10 presentations of a new food before they willingly accepts it.

If your child is otherwise healthy, eating only a few select foods for a little while will not have any adverse effect. So, rather than insist your child eat a food that is being rejected, try some of the following:

  • Offer a new food only when your child is hungry and rested.
  • Present only one new food at a time.
  • Make it fun: a game, a play-filled experience. Cut the food into unusual shapes.
  • Serve new foods with favourite foods to increase acceptance.
  • Eat the new food yourself; children love to imitate.
  • Have your child help to prepare foods. Often they will be more willing to try something when they helped to make it.
  • Limit beverages. Picky eaters often fill up on liquids instead.
  • Limit snacks to two per day.

What can you as a parent do to help?

To increase your child's activity level:

  • Limit recreational screen time to fewer than two hours a day. A sure way to increase your child's activity levels is to limit the number of hours he or she is allowed to watch television each day. Other sedentary activities — playing video and computer games or talking on the phone — also should be limited.
  • Emphasize activity, not exercise. Your child's activity doesn't have to be a structured exercise program — the object is just to get them moving. Free-play activities, such as playing hide-and-seek, tag or jump-rope, can be great for burning calories and improving fitness.
  • Find activities your child likes to do. For instance, if your child is artistically inclined, go on a nature hike to collect leaves and rocks that your child can use to make a collage. If your child likes to climb, head for the nearest neighbourhood jungle gym or climbing wall. If your child likes to read, then walk or bike to the neighbourhood library for a book.
  • If you want an active child, be active yourself. Find fun activities that the whole family can do together. Never make exercise seem a punishment or a chore.
  • Vary the activities. Let each child take a turn choosing the activity of the day or week. Batting practice, bowling and swimming all count. What matters is that you're doing something active.
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