Get rid of the junk food and make small changes to turn your child's lifestyle around.
Manage your child's diet with these tips:
Resist the junk food revolution
Although some “kiddies’ meals” do include the option of a fruit juice or milk, these meals still don’t contain a vegetable portion and can’t be considered a balanced meal.
Sharmilah Booley, a registered dietician and lecturer in the Division of Human Nutrition at the University of Cape Town (UCT), explains, “Parents don’t want children to miss out on what their friends are doing, so might say ‘yes’ to unhealthy snacks more often than they should. No one wants to spoil the fun.
"Supermarket chains position sweets and chocolates marketed towards children on low shelves so that even crawling babies can reach them. Parents often give in to such requests to avoid a scene," she continues. "Don't give in.”
Resist surrendering for short-term gain
Sharmilah says that when parents give their child the fast food with a toy or a chocolate they ask for in the supermarket, the parents are thinking of today’s problems, such as preventing tantrums. They are not thinking of the long-term dangers they may be helping to manifest.
Eating and lifestyle habits at a young age are strongly connected to serious and even fatal health problems later in life, such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, certain cancers and premature death.
Some parents have the false perception that children will grow out of being fat. This is the exception and not the rule. Dr Steyn says, “Parents often only try to address the problem when their child is obese. Don’t hesitate to consult a dietician sooner rather than later. In South Africa, with dieticians at local State hospitals, dieticians are accessible to everyone.”
Check the daycare menu
Many crèches claim that they only serve healthy food but are in fact feeding babies nutritional horrors. The food available at school tuck shops is also a concern. Dr Steyn says the MRC has surveyed the food at 14 schools in Cape Town. “We found that the food available to children was high in fat and sugar but low in micronutrient density.”
Sharmilah says in South Africa, many childcare facilities are not regulated so the nutritional quality of the meals depends largely on economic resources. The lack of knowledge among care givers about the nutritional needs of children is also an important factor. Make sure you know what your child is eating every day.
Examine your fridge
In a world of convenience food, Dr Tim Lobstein, director of the Childhood Obesity Programme at the International Obesity Taskforce (IOTF), suggests you try to make your home a junk-free zone.
“Children eat what is in the fridge and the grocery cupboard,” he says, so take a critical look at what these contain. Is there always a selection of fruit and vegetables available, healthy yoghurts, pure milk and fruit juice, fish, white meats, and whole grains, or is your fridge packed with sugary deserts, fizzy drinks, processed meats and last night’s left over pizza?
Dr Lobstein advises, “Parents should not get anxious, but get angry at how the food industry is promoting its junk at every opportunity and undermining good parenting with its advertising, free toys, cartoon characters and sports personalities all promoting fatty and sugary foods and drinks.”
Turn your anger into action, she says. “Fight back by making complaints to the food companies and school authorities. If you don’t, they’ll just say, ‘We are only giving people what they ask for’. Demand a healthier world. Your child deserves it.”
International Association for the Study of Obesity, www.iaso.org
South African Society of Obesity and Metabolism, www.sasom.co.za