How do you get Junior to lose those extra kilos healthily, without making him feel self-conscious and insecure? We’ve got helpful tips of three experts to help you and your child.
- YY Low, health psychologist and principal weight management consultant of Hadara Aesthetics Boutique
- Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre
- Rebecca Goh, education specialist at Kinderland
You used to coo over your child’s chubby cheeks but now that he’s older, you notice he’s become too pudgy for his age. It’s a problem that affects roughly one in 10 children here. Figures from the Ministry of Education put the national obesity rate of students in Singapore at 11 per cent in 2011.
Childhood obesity is no small matter. “It increases a child’s risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and sleep apnoea,” shares YY Low, a health psychologist who has counselled children with weight issues. “It can also cause psychosocial issues like low self-esteem, which in turn affects their health and quality of life.”
Is He Overweight or Just Big-Boned?
Body Mass Index (BMI) is generally a good yardstick of how much body fat a person has. In children, BMI is age and gender specific – as the amount of body fat they have changes as they grow older, says YY.
You can easily calculate your child’s BMI online, with his height and weight. Thereafter, you can plot his BMI against the Health Promotion Board’s BMI Percentile charts, which can be found here.
“A child is considered overweight if his weight places him above the 97th percentile on the chart,” notes Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre.
Uh-Oh, My Child is Indeed Overwieght, How do I tell Him Tactfully?
Be understanding, encouraging and supportive. “Avoid words and labels that will make him feel conscious about his weight or appearance. Also, be realistic about his weight loss and avoid making comparisons with other children, as this will affect his self-esteem. Ultimately, it is important for your child to maintain a healthy body image, and know that he is unconditionally loved and accepted by you,” says YY.
Should I Reduce His Food Intake?
Don’t decrease your child’s food portions drastically in order to facilitate weight loss. Instead, make healthier choices for his meals. “For instance, reduce intake of foods high in saturated fats and trans fats, such as potato chips and fries. Opt for foods with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead, such as peanut butter and salmon,” advises Rebecca Goh, education specialist at Kinderland.
Also ensure that Junior is eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Says YY: “If he dislikes veggies, try presenting them to him in creative ways by cutting them up in different shapes and sizes.” You can also whip up tasty, kid-friendly dishes, such as veggie-patty burgers and kale chips, to get Junior to eat his greens.
Choose wholegrain foods over refined grains – for instance, brown rice over white rice, and wholegrain bread over white bread. “Wholegrain foods contain more vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre. It’s a good idea to introduce these foods to young children, as they can then get accustomed to the taste and texture,” says YY.
When it comes to protein, Bibi advises removing all visible fat and skin from meat, and avoiding high-fat and high-sodium options like chicken wings, sausages and chicken nuggets.
Limit the amount of sugar by making snacks like chocolates, ice cream and sodas an occasional treat. “Sugar adds extra calories to your child’s diet, with little nutritional value,” cautions YY. Rebecca recommends stocking healthy snack alternatives at home, such as fresh fruit, yogurt and oatcakes.
What Sports Activities Can He Do to Lose Weight?
“Children often enjoy physical activity more if it’s a team sport or a game,” notes Bibi. Make sports a part of your family’s weekend activities whenever possible – aerobic activities such as cycling, in-line skating and badminton can be done as a family. “Encourage your child to take up an extracurricular activity that involves exercise, such as martial arts or dance,” adds YY.
Being physically active does not always have to involve sports. “Your child can incorporate physical activity into his daily routine by using the stairs instead of the lift or escalator, or by helping out in household chores, such as sweeping and mopping. You can also encourage your child to get off one bus stop earlier and walk on his way to and from school,” shares YY.
What About Sleep – Does That Play a Part?
Definitely. “Sleep deprivation can cause your child to experience increased cravings for energy-dense, high-carbohydrate foods. This might lead to overeating and weight gain,” observes YY. Rebecca notes: “Children who don’t get enough rest are usually more lethargic, and have less motivation to participate in physical activities.”
How Often Should My Child Be Exercising?
Kids below the age of seven should be getting up to three hours of play a day in a safe environment, while older children should aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, says Bibi. She also recommends that older children engage in moderate to vigorous sports, such as swimming and jogging, at least thrice a week, as this strengthens their muscles and bones.
Do observe safety precautions, though. “For instance, your child should stop exercising immediately if he experiences any pain, breathlessness or giddiness. He should also avoid exercising when unwell, or when recovering from an illness,” warns YY.
More healthy eating tips for kids.
By Delle Chan, Simply Her, July 2015