Childhood obesity

'Obesity' and being 'obese' are words used by doctors to describe when a person (adult or child) is overweight to the extent that they are more likely to suffer health problems than a person who is a healthy weight.

The number of overweight and obese children in the UK has risen steadily over the past 20 years. It is estimated that up to 15% of children in the UK are overweight or obese. It's now a major health concern.

How children become obese

Children have high energy requirements because they are growing. A varied and nutritious diet is essential for their development. However, like adults, if they take in more energy in the form of food than they use up, the extra energy is stored in their bodies as fat.

Problems caused by being overweight

Children who are overweight tend to grow up into adults who are overweight. They therefore have a higher risk of developing serious health problems in later life, including heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Being overweight as a child can also cause psychological distress. Teasing about their appearance affects children's confidence and self-esteem and can lead to isolation and depression.

How to tackle obesity

The idea of putting your child on a diet may not be appealing, but think of it as a lifestyle change. In most cases it just involves making simple changes to your child's eating habits and getting them to engage in more physical activity.

Changes to eating habits

Do: 

  • Set a good example with your own eating habits
  • Provide meals and snacks at regular times to prevent 'grazing' throughout the day
  • Make mealtimes an occasion by eating as a family group as often as possible
  • Get children involved in preparing food as this will make them more aware of what they are eating
  • Encourage children to 'listen to their tummies' and eat when they are hungry rather than out of habit
  • Teach children to chew food more slowly and savour the food, as they will feel fuller more quickly and be less likely to overeat at mealtimes
  • Encourage older children to keep a food diary, recording what and when they eat. It's important to be aware of snacking 'danger times' and find strategies to divert attention away from food, or towards a healthier option

Don't:

  • Allow your children to eat while watching TV or doing homework
  • Keep lots of high-fat, high-sugar snack foods in the house
  • Make outings for fast foods part of the weekly routine

Physical activity

  • Gradually increase your child's physical activity, such as brisk walking, to at least an hour a day
  • Encourage walking to places such as school and the shops, rather than always using the car
  • Suggest going to the park for a kick around with a football, or a game of rounders, cricket or frisbee
  • Visit a local leisure centre to investigate sports and team activities to get involved in
  • Make exercise a treat by taking special trips to an adventure play park or an ice skating rink, for example
  • Involve the whole family in bike rides, swimming or in-line skating