It has been said so many times that “we are what we eat”, which is inclusive of children. Statements like “your child needs to go on a diet” or “my child is on diet” seem over bearing and quite alarming. However, when I see babies, toddlers and children who are over weight, the term becomes a reality and very understandable. When it comes to dieting, it not just about children being over weight but also about being under weight. I worked with a NHS community team that attended to families with children under 5 years of age. I regularly weighed children who visited the clinic and had to measure their weight against their birth weight on the centile chart. If the child’s weight varied dramatically (over or under) from the birth weight centile, the child would be referred to a dietitian for further support to the family. This is still presently the process.
There are certain things to consider when it comes to food choice and dieting for children.
1. Parent: have a lot in contributing to their children’s diet. It is sad to say but some parents are just lazy and have a no care attitude about what their children eat. While some just do not know how to prepare a good meal for their children. Other parents are anxious and picky eaters themselves, and tend to pass this on to their children by saying, “my child can’t eat this and that.”
2. Genetics: some children are naturally the size they are because of their biological genes. No matter what they eat or drink, they are naturally big or remain small. I am sure you have heard people saying, “We have tried all types of diet, but she is just naturally big” or “he eats for the world but it does not show on him”. Genetics can skip a generation to move to the next and the child may have more similarities in weight with grandparents than his/her parents.
3. Foundation: the moment the foundation is right, it helps things fall into place. The weaning process is the foundation of introducing solid food to babies. It helps that the parents get it right, the child has a better chance of eating well into the toddler age and thereafter. In the UK there are community nurses who can support and advise parents on starting the process of weaning, which is the foundation stage.
4. Way of cooking: some children’s foods are over cooked, under cooked, look and taste horrible. This makes parents/carers give up on preparing food for children and go for the easier option of fast/junk food. Food presentation should be colourful and well presented to get the attention of children, especially for younger children. It can be argued that McDonald’s is so popular because of its red and yellow colours.
5. Culture: the cultural dynamic of a family is important to how the child eats. In some cultures a big child shows sign of healthy living and wealth, while in some, it is the opposite. I some African, Asian and Arabic cultures big children is a sign of healthy living, while prominently in the European culture, this is not the case. The cultural diversity of food and how it is prepared influence our diet too. Rice is such a popular grain, but its preparation vary from country to country and culture to culture.
As a mother, on occasions, I treat my children with fast food but when it becomes regular and a daily occurrence it becomes unhealthy. A bit of treat and junk food does no harm, but too much of it do damage the body, with children developing heart problems, diabetes, skin problems or high blood pressure. U.S.A has been known for its high level of sugary food and fatty content, which I have experienced myself. However, on my last visit, I noticed sugary and fatty content has drastically reduced, especially the state I visited. I was told the first lady, Mrs Obama, started a scheme about health eating, lifestyle and dieting, which had a positive impact on the manufacturing process. This tells me balance diet changes can be made to our children’s food choices, all we have to do is make the choice and follow it through.
Change for life is a helpful resource set up by the UK government to help children and families live a healthy lifestyle. It has lots of information on diet, food, exercise, eat well plate and so much more.