FIGHTING childhood obesity
The obesity epidemic is a growing problem in New Zealand especially amongst children and teenagers. LYDIA SHOEBRIDGE is shocked by the statistics.
One in three adults (age 15 and over) are obese and one in nine children are obese, according to a survey conducted by New Zealand Health [2012 / 2013].
Dietitian for the Blues super rugby team Dave Shaw says this issue is hard to solve and he is concerned that [obesity] statistics aren’t decreasing.
“Obviously it’s not ideal and causes huge strains on the health system. The biggest challenge from a dietitian’s perspective is trying to reduce obesity and create awareness about what foods to eat.”
Obesity exposes children to a multitude of health risks both psychological and physical, along with greater chances of obesity carrying on into adulthood.
Risks include asthma, liver disease, problems with bones and muscles, and type-two diabetes. This type of diabetes was virtually unknown in children before the obesity epidemic; those who develop this type are generally over the age of 40.
“Parents do everything for their children, making their breakfast and lunch and children still don’t know how to maintain a healthy diet. The media and advertising heavily persuades children, especially with fast food and they take these misconceptions into adult life,” says Dave.
Teenage years are crucial when it comes to both physical and mental development so staying fit during these years is beneficial. Fitness and health habits developed as a teenager are likely to last a lifetime and exercise is important to the overall health of teens. Areas to address:
Eating right – they say being fit and healthy is a 20:80 scenario, 20 per/ cent exercise, while the rest is down to a healthy diet. Junk food is, obviously, poor fuel for the body and teenagers should try and cutback on sugary drinks and processed food. Junk food is higher in sugar, saturated fat and salt so try and cook at home as often as possible. Encourage them to eat a healthy breakfast every morning to avoid snacking during the day and keep your fruit bowl fully stocked. Don’t think it needs to be all or nothing. Eating well doesn’t mean you need to turn into a “health freak” and a good diet should incorporate a treat now and then.
Sleeping well – getting enough sleep is often overlooked, but is an important health factor for teenagers. Poor sleep deprives the body of energy, which is needed when working out. Teenagers need between eight and nine hours of sleep a night and despite how difficult it is, encourage them to turn off the TV and computer right before bed as it stimulates the brain making it harder to fall asleep.
Fitness tips – parents should ultimately try and give teens control over how they decide to be physically active. Exercise doesn’t need to be a gruelling process, which nobody looks forward to. Playing a team sport is a way to make it fun and teenagers will probably be meeting the recommended 60 minuets of vigorous activity. Team sports can include soccer, netball, basketball, hockey and cycling. If this isn’t the go, there are plenty of other options that can be done alone like swimming, running, walking and even dancing burns calories! Talk to someone who understands the importance of exercise, like a coach or gym trainer and try and find what is right for your teen.
Improved mood – exercising regularly produces changes in chemical levels in the body, which can even reduce symptoms of mild depression. A low level of endorphins, hormones in the brain associated with happiness, is part of depression and during exercise endorphins are released therefore improving your mood. Exercising also boosts serotonin in your brain, which plays an important role in keeping calm.
For healthy snacks, fresh fruit is a more prudent choice, than packets of processed snacks with high sugar and / or salt content.