Tag Archives: childhood obesity

Habits and the rise of childhood obesity

I’m not an obesity expert and I’m FAR from being a parenting expert just to be clear.

I’m a mother of three and understand how trying it can be at times. So this is in no way a judgement on young parents, just my thoughts and observations.

No electronic devices needed here!
No electronic devices needed here!

I remember when my kids were small. It wasn’t always easy, even with well behaved children.
Sometimes I did what was easy for the sake of my sanity. My daughter was sick as a baby, and cried a lot unless she was being held. I also had a toddler who needed my attention and care. I remember putting my baby girl in a musical motorized swing for TWO hours just so I could get a shower and some housework done in peace. The recommended  time was 10 minutes…..I felt so guilty after but at the time I was desperate for a break from her.

In spite of my intentions of being the perfect mother, the TV became my babysitter at times. I still know all of The Wiggles songs word for word.  Still waiting for Jeff to wake up. 😪
My son knew his alphabet and could recognize letters at aged 2 thanks to Sesame Street and Shrek is probably still one of my favourite movies.

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So I understand taking the easy route and I know as parents we’re all doing the best we can with the tools we currently have. But I think there in lies a problem.
The abundant tools we have.
Our parents didn’t have the resources we have and I’m not sure our kids are better off for it.

In the 70′ s and 80’s we had books, a few toys and TV. We only had kids shows on for small portions of the day. We didn’t have computers, DVDs or internet. Our parents did a weekly or fortnightly shop and when the luxury stuff ran out, we made do. The food had to last and had to be rationed to ensure it did last. We had 3 meals and a piece of fruit for morning tea. We only got fruit which was in season too.
After school was a bowl of cereal or some toast. Our mothers baked, but we didn’t have cake and biscuits every day. There were no packaged snacks as I remember, until they came out in the late 70’s or early 80’s. Even then only a few kids got them on the regular in their lunch boxes.

Most of us only did one sport, which was generally on a Saturday. So we weren’t out 4 or 5 nights of the week with activities. No quick meals reheated or eaten on the run. We ate dinner all together as a family.
So simple compared to life now for kids with so much time spent out and about with busy siblings and parents.

For example, I was at the doctors office recently.
My appointment was at 1pm. Not long after lunch time for most people.
There was a young mother in the waiting room with a toddler.
She had some toys and books in tow to amuse her daughter.
She also had an array of tupperware containers. Chopped apples. Crackers. Cheese and sultanas. Not a bad selection for a 2 year old.

Necessary only about an hour after lunch? Probably not.

The child was pretty happy. Babbling and climbing up and down from the chairs and rearranging the out dated magazines on the coffee table. Charming the other people in the waiting room with her innocence. The mother, obviously trying to stop her baby from, well….being a baby, kept trying to distract her from her exploration of the waiting room and the people waiting there by offering her food.

It’s now not an uncommon thing to see parents using food as entertainment or distraction for little ones. I see it all the time.

It seems that parents these days can’t leave the house for an hour in between meals without a meal to keep their little ones occupied.
Car trip….snack.
Gym creche at 9am….snack, because 1 hour is far too long to go without food at 9am.😣
Play group…snack.
Visiting friends….snack, just in case.
Shopping…..packed smorgasbord of snacks.

It has become the expectation and the norm for kids to have food on hand at all times. Regardless of when they last ate and how much.

I don’t remember a lot about being under school age, but I certainly don’t remember having food on tap all day. I don’t remember leaving the house with a six course meal either. Like a mini body builder. I think I’d remember that.

I do remember being so hungry at meal times that my mouth would water in anticipation. I do remember eating everything on my plate even if I didn’t love it. I don’t remember any of my 6 siblings being fussy eaters besides one who wouldn’t eat silver beet. Fair enough though. It tastes like dirt and from our garden sometimes the wild life stuck to the leaves even after washing and steaming. Mmm snails….

Fast forward a few decades and not only do this generation have snacks to get them through every day appointments or chores, but they have iPads or iPhones or gaming devices to keep them suitably disengaged from the world around them and their imagination. (I’m guilty of this too.)

Heaven forbid we teach our kids to suck it up and be patient when things are a little boring. Play I spy?
No. Much better to give them food and technology to relieve the boredom of every day life and real world interactions.

All of which teach our kids about delayed gratification,   communication and real life, which is not always entertaining. (Unless you’ve been allowed non screen time to develop an imagination of course. Then you can make any situation entertaining. )

We can justify constant feeding of our kids by suggesting we only offer healthy food, but like I say to my adult fat-loss clients, the numbers still need to add up for energy balance, deficit or surplus. We can still over consume healthy food and gain excess fat as a result. Infants are less likely to over eat, but when it’s constantly offered it becomes a learned habit.

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in teens in the last 30 years.  This is a rapid and concerning growth. The chances of an obese child becoming an obese adult are higher than for a child of average weight. With obesity comes high risk of lifestyle diseases as well as the emotional difficulties some face with body image with an unhealthy body composition. So it’s not about fitting a social norm, but about health and well being.

As children get older there are temptations everywhere, and kids are masters at pester power and manipulation. The canteens at sports events selling “sports” drinks and sweets have become the parents bane. If it’s a once a week thing after a game to get a treat, I see no problem. Unfortunately when there are several children in a family all playing a couple of sports, it soon becomes an every day temptation that parents are giving into more and more to keep peace.

All the while justifying it with the thought that it’s been burned off with all the sport. Which may be the case for some, but for plenty, the  rest of their 23 hours are spent sitting in class or on a device and the one hour a couple times a week is the only time they’re truly active.

That’s just one place where kids are regularly over consuming though. Then there are trips to the supermarket and pocket money at the school canteen. Sleepovers and play dates where parents offer treats and fast food just because there are guests over.

Treats are no longer treats, but every day foods for a lot of kids.

My motto for my own children is to say yes when I can if there’s no harm in saying yes. However, I think all kids need to hear “No” sometimes to learn self control and real expectations in life. They can’t always get what they want, especially when it may not be good for them long term.  We also need to learn to say no to ourselves at times. 🙂

I know there are much worse things for children to be than fat, like unhappy or cruel and insensitive. We teach kids to be decent people with good morals, we give them the best education we can provide, we give them opportunities to shine in sport and activities they enjoy, we make sure hey brush their teeth and teach them about home and personal hygiene. All so they can grow into well functioning adults.

Teaching our kids to use food as boredom relief is not going to help them become well functioning adults. Habits start from childhood. Do we want our kids in the habit of over consuming from toddlerhood? Teaching them to rely on devices for entertainment and social connection instead of real world interactions and sensory experiences may be the norm, but is it optimal for their mental well being and social learning? No.

When we decide to have children we take on certain responsibilities. We strive to be the best we can for our kids and sometimes it’s difficult to be consistent and disciplined for their benefit. Even if we fall into the easy fix solutions in tough times, which we all do, letting kids know the discomfort of being hungry, bored and patient will help them learn to delay gratification and build their character.