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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 3, No. 1 - January/February 2011

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Weight Wise Kids

By Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair

Media attention on the topic of weight is growing and reports highlight children, as young as two years old, being overweight. Such labels can be detrimental to self esteem especially in children.

Overweight children, unfortunately, face prejudice by peers and occasionally adults making an already difficult period of life more complicated. Bullying can lead to forms of depression and stress.
As eating habits are learnt, it is important to teach children how to make healthy choices when choosing their meals. Promotion of healthy living is essential for parents by way of example to children.

Undesirably the culture of busy families means preparation of healthier home-cooked meals is rapidly being replaced by fast foods and processed meals. The culprit of overweight families and in particular overweight children not only lies with a lack of healthy eating but also in the lack of activity. Many children do not spend enough time exercising, instead more time is dedicated in front of the TV, computer or games console.

It is not always understood why the weight problem exists. Most assume what goes in is what comes out, this is not true. To maintain a healthy body weight, the body follows a simple concept energy in = energy out. Energy in is the food we eat and energy out is the amount of energy the body uses. Consumption of unhealthy foods and a lack of activity tips this balance in favour of individuals being overweight.

What is happening to the energy if it is not all coming out?

Once inside, the body begins to process the food into smaller molecules. Food is broken down into 3 forms of energy the body can use; protein, found in meat and fish, carbohydrates, found in bread, rice and pasta, and fats which are found in butter, cakes, chips and fried foods. All three are needed for healthy living, however, the proportions of each type should not tip the balance into overweight.

Protein is mainly used within the body to fight infections, heal wounds and build muscle. Carbohydrates and fats are the main energy providers. The body is designed to store carbohydrates and fats in fat cells until they are needed. There are a set number of fat cells all over the body. If the energy is not used the fat cells will just get bigger. As these cells grow the person becomes more and more overweight. Letting this energy build up can increase the risk of serious and more permanent problems such as heart disease and diabetes type II. In the case of heart disease, if too much energy is stored as fat, it can to stick to the blood vessel walls and prevent the blood from flowing properly. This means not enough blood gets to the heart.

Type II diabetes is another permanent problem caused by excess energy. Carbohydrates and fats enter the cells of the body using insulin. In type II diabetes the cells become resistant to insulin which means the energy can't get to the cells. This can lead to other problems with the eyes, kidneys and legs.

To avoid such problems it is vital to give your body the type and amount of fuel it needs to stay healthy.

Most packaged food will provide details of the nutrition values of the food. Calories are the measurement of energy. If the food is unpackaged it is possible to look up standard food lists which will provide you with this information. Children should consume approximately 1,800 calories a day, teenage girls and women should be consuming approximately 2,000 calories a day and teenage boys and men should not be consuming more than 2,500 calories a day.

While calories are a way of measuring the energy in, it's also important to have the right foods to provide vitamins, minerals and all the things your body needs to work properly. To do this you should follow the healthy plate or pyramid.

A healthy plate of food will contain the right balance of the five main food groups; fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, dairy, meat or fish and sugary and fatty foods. There should be more fruits and vegetables on your plate and only a small amount of sugary/fatty foods.

Remember to prepare your food in a healthier way. It is better to bake, grill or steam food instead of frying. This not only keeps the calorie content down but the food also keeps in essential vitamins and minerals. Positively preparation by these methods is also less time consuming.

Whilst food prepared at home is healthy it is important to be aware of portion size. Children naturally will require a smaller serving. Undesirably many parents tend to overestimate servings for children providing them with adequate energy for an adult. If unsure it is possible to look up ideal portion and serving sizes for both adults and children. Alternatively talking to a dietician may help.

Changing eating habits to maintain a healthy weight should be coupled with releasing the energy consumed. Exercise is thought of as a scary word, being associated with a difficult session at the gym. It doesn't have to be that way and can actually be quite the opposite. Starting with simple activities like walking instead of using the car, where possible and taking the stairs instead of the lift, is a good start. Other activities such as playing games outside such as football, basketball, dancing and even walking around the shopping centre can not only release the stored energy but also serve as fun family activities.

Small changes in eating habits and the amount of physical activity is all that is needed to avoid the potential label of overweight or worse still obese and the potential for other long term diseases in the future.

So the message to take home is "Play Hard" and "Eat Healthily" to avoid being overweight.


Dr Kim Chilman-Blair is the Founder of Medikidz, a series of medical comic books to help children understand what is happening inside their bodies and lessen the fear that comes with a diagnosis. Medikidz now has over 20 titles, including Type 1 Diabetes, Epilepsy and Depression. MediKidz aims to change how children receive information and support about their conditions.

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Checklist for a Healthy Lifestyle
  • Swap less healthy foods for healthy foods - eat vegetables with lunch & dinner
  • Eat fresh fruit every day
  • Get active - involve your family it's easier & more fun in a team
  • Save high energy foods like chocolate, cakes & chips for special occasions
  • Don't overeat - remember portion control

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