Childhood obesity is on the rise worldwide, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with one out of every six children classified as overweight. Children are gaining twice as much weight as they did 30 years ago.
While many toddlers and young children grow out of “puppy fat”, if your child’s weight continues to rise above the normal BMI for their age, it can have serious health consequences for them later in life.
Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults, develop chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, struggle to keep up with their peers during the day, have difficulty breathing at night, or complain of hip or knee pain.
If you’re unsure whether your child is overweight, make an appointment with your doctor, who will plot your child’s weight and height on a growth chart and compare it to other children their age and gender. It’s also critical to assess your child’s diet and ensure you know more about common dietary myths that may be causing your child’s weight to increase.
Common food myths that contribute to childhood obesity
Myth: Starchy breakfast foods such as pancakes, muffins, and crumpets are nutritious
Fact: These are fine for a weekend treat, but they are not a good breakfast option unless you bake healthier versions. Sweet baked goods often contain processed white flour, sugar, saturated fat, and preservatives, leading to weight gain and even chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, they are almost entirely devoid of fibre, which may result in constipation.
Myth: Restaurant food is healthy if my child orders from the children’s menu
Fact: Most restaurants serve foods they believe children will enjoy, even if they are not always the healthiest option. Have you ever seen carrot sticks, soups, or salads on a kids’ menu? Typically, you’ll find deep-fried foods like fried chicken or chips, processed meats like sausages, and white, sugary carbs like white bread or pizza loaded with fatty cheese. Numerous studies have found that these convenience foods are the leading cause of rising obesity rates. Limit the number of times you order children’s meals and stay informed about what’s on the menu.
Myth: Fruit juice is a healthier option for children than sugary juices
Fact: Fruit juice, unless freshly squeezed and diluted with water, may be unhealthy because it is high in sugar and lacks the fibre found in whole fruits. According to Meg Faure, occupational therapist and author of Feeding Sense, your child should only drink water, milk (once or twice a day), or rooibos tea. The goal is to encourage as much water consumption as possible, so keep a full water bottle on hand at all times.
Myth: My child requires animal protein at every meal
Fact: Protein is necessary for healthy growth and development, but according to Patrick Holford, nutritionist and author of Optimum Nutrition Before, During, and After Pregnancy, you don’t have to give your child (over the age of one) cheese, meat, and milk at every meal. Although animal protein is the primary source of protein in the average Western diet, it’s only a marginally better source than nuts and seeds, quinoa, or pulses like lentils mixed with brown rice.
Processed animal meats, like deli meats, yellow cheese, and chicken nuggets, are frequently high in unhealthy saturated fats, which contribute to obesity. Consider feeding your child more fish, particularly white fish like hake and oily fish high in omega-3, and experiment with vegetarian protein sources like tofu.
Myth: Frozen yoghurt and ice cream are healthy dessert options
Fact: While marginally better than ice cream, frozen yoghurt and milkshakes can contain high amounts of sugar and may be making your child obese. A large cup of frozen yoghurt, for example, has about 400 calories, whereas a standard McDonald’s Vanilla Shake with syrup has 74g sugar and about 600 calories. According to recent American Heart Association guidelines, children aged two to eight should consume no more than three to four teaspoons of sugar per day, totalling only 15-20g.
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