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Rochdale Observer - - THE LAUGHING BADGER -

ARELY a week goes by with­out chil­dren’s di­ets be­ing men­tioned in the me­dia. Health of­fi­cials are call­ing for tar­gets to be set to cut the calo­ries in pop­u­lar foods amid con­cerns chil­dren are con­sum­ing too much.

Pub­lic Health Eng­land chief nu­tri­tion­ist Dr Ali­son Ted­stone says: “We have a se­ri­ous prob­lem – one in three leave pri­mary school ei­ther obese or over­weight. If we want to tackle this we have to look at calo­ries. There are a num­ber of ways it can be done – we can re­duce the size of the prod­ucts or change the in­gre­di­ents.”

NHS fig­ures sug­gest obe­sity rates among UK chil­dren are con­tin­u­ing to rise. Of course, it’s a big con­cern, but it can be an ex­tremely con­fus­ing is­sue for par­ents.

And as Chris Smith, se­nior lec­turer in health and so­cial care at the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Lan­cashire (UCLan), points out, healthy eating is not just about calo­ries. Here, he talks us through some key points... Of­fi­cial guide­lines sug­gest schoolage chil­dren need 1,600-2,500 calo­ries a day. There are more spe­cific guide­lines for cer­tain age ranges, how­ever, and it also de­pends on their body weight and ac­tiv­ity lev­els. As with adults, how­ever, if you’re gen­er­ally healthy, ac­tive and mind­ful of hav­ing a bal­anced diet, you shouldn’t need to ob­sess about calo­rie-count­ing.

Chris notes: “Calo­ries have be­come al­most a catch-all mea­sure­ment for the value of food, and on their own, they are not a use­ful guide for par­ents or their chil­dren. Calo­ries are just a raw value of en­ergy cal­cu­lated fol­low­ing ex­per­i­ments in a lab, rather than in­side the hu­man body. It is far more im­por­tant to fo­cus on the nu­tri­tional value of the food we give our chil­dren.”

Ul­ti­mately, num­bers and guide­lines – the body mass in­dex (BMI), for ex­am­ple – have their place, but they don’t tell the whole story. “Stud­ies have demon­strated that purely us­ing a vis­ual as­sess­ment of a child’s weight sta­tus by a par­ent can lead to ei­ther over- or un­der­feed­ing,” says Chris. “This will ul­ti­mately lead to the cre­ation of neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tions with food by the child, which can tran­si­tion into ado­les­cence. Chil­dren have a great abil­ity to self-reg­u­late on their own – so if they need more food, they will ask for more. A par­ent’s role is to fa­cil­i­tate choice and en­cour­age a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with food.” If you’re con­cerned about your child’s weight or BMI mea­sure­ment, re­mem­ber you can al­ways talk to your GP for ad­vice.

“Try to avoid pres­sur­ing your­self or your child into eating the `ideal’ diet,” says Chris. “Chil­dren and in­fants de­velop their own pref­er­ences from an early age, and it does not mat­ter how much a par­ent may like their child to eat loads of fruit and veg­eta­bles, if they don’t have a pref­er­ence for this, over-pres­sur­ing can cause more harm than good.

“Sim­ple ad­vice would be to in­tro­duce a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent foods into your child’s diet. Even if they don’t like some­thing the first time, don’t be afraid to rein­tro­duce th­ese again. Stud­ies have shown it takes at least six in­tro­duc­tions to a new food un­til chil­dren form a pref­er­ence.

“Try to avoid bribery – this just strength­ens a pref­er­ence to the re­ward food and a stronger dis­like for the food they are be­ing bribed to eat.

“From sit­ting down to­gether at meal­times, to cook­ing to­gether at week­ends, re­mem­ber, food can be fun and kids will re­spond to your sig­nals.”

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