Preventing childhood obesity – top tips from an expert dietitian  

Andrew Silva, 28 Jul 2022

We hear plenty in the media about the childhood obesity ‘epidemic’, but how serious is the problem, and what can be done at Young Academics – and at home – to prevent it? 

We asked our nutrition partners Michelle Theodosi and her team from The Lifestyle Dietitian their expert opinion and thoughts, for the rundown on an increasingly weighty issue. 

Q: How significant is childhood obesity, both in the toddler/preschool age group and then in primary school-aged children? 

A: Among children aged between 2 and 4, 9.2% are officially obese, with 16% overweight. Between 5 and 9, 8.4% are obese and 17% are overweight, while in the 10 to 14-year age group, 7% are obese and 16.5% are overweight.

Q: What are the key contributing factors to childhood obesity in your opinion?

A: There are a number of factors, but the most significant are:

  • Low intake of whole foods (fruits, vegetable, wholegrains, lean proteins, dairy) and water – only 1 in 15 children eat enough vegetables per day
  • Frequently consuming high fat/sugar food/drink which provides little to no nutritional value – 41% of children regularly consume sugar-sweetened drinks
  • A lack of physical activity – only 1 in 4 children are as active as they should be
  • Too much screen time – Australian children watch an average of 2.5 hours of television a day, as well as spending time on tables and other electronic devices – all seated activities replacing opportunities to be active
  • Poor family role models – parents and carers do the shopping and cooking, deciding which foods are available at home. When parents/carers and children eat together and model positive eating behaviours, it encourages healthy eating patterns
  • Inadequate sleep – a lack of sleep increases hunger hormones the next day which can contribute to eating more than our bodies need
  • Genetics, family history and some medical conditions – sometimes there is a medical cause for obesity – always see your family doctor if you have any concerns
Q: What are the first steps to take if you believe your child is obese?

A: Take a step back and look at any patterns that can be tweaked – making changes as a family is the best way to make a long-term change so your child doesn’t feel singled out.

Here are a few ideas to get started: 
  • Make water the preferred drink choice. This is the best choice for hydration and dental health. Add colourful fruit or mint to make it fun.
  • Sit together as a family to eat and get rid of distractions (toys, TVs, phones).
  • Set limits around screen time – aim for less than 2 hours a day – replace screen tie with fun activities to make the transition stress-free.
  • Set a regular bedtime and get plenty of sleep each night.
  • Try a new hobby chosen by your child – for example, karate, soccer, rock climbing.
  • Stock the pantry with healthy snack options like cheese, wholegrain crackers, cherry tomatoes, vegetable sticks and hummus.
  • Encourage everyone to chew their food thoroughly to help them learn their hunger and fullness cues.
  • Have set meal and snack times with 3 hours between each to reduce grazing.
  • Make breakfast a priority – children who eat breakfast are less likely to over eat later in the day.

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