lchfThe obesity rates for South African kids are up from 2010 with 27% of girls and 9% of boys aged 15 to 17 being overweight or obese. Sadly without intervention these kids will grow into obese adults, says Health24.

A chubby baby is usually seen as a picture of health, not? The comments are always: “They will lose that puppy fat as soon as they get active and start walking.”

This does hold some truth as my Tribe soon transformed from cuddly to lean once they started moving. However, with my fourth (and final) pregnancy I developed gestational diabetes. This led to Mili-Flyn (my last born) being born at 34 weeks and weighing in at a healthy 2,1kg’s.

One of the side effects of gestational diabetes is a higher risk of obesity for the child. This makes me well aware that her puppy fat, while cute at 4 years old, needs to be monitored so that she does not form part of the obesity statistics in South Africa.

What is classified as an obese child you might ask? Is it determined by the ratio of weight to height? The normal range for Body Mass Index (BMI) in children vary with age and sex. While a BMI above the 85th percentile is defined as overweight, a BMI greater than or equal to the 95th percentile is defined as obesity. When your child’s health is in question it is always safest to consult your paediatrician.

The causes for childhood obesity are so vast. They can vary from a hormone imbalance to peer pressure and the media; to cultural norms or just a lack of physical activity. While not all of these causes can be combated by lifestyle change, some of them can, by us parents ensuring certain behaviours and habits, which we have already highlighted in previous blog posts.

How you as parent can help your child fight or avoid obesity:

1. Encourage physical activity by encouraging your kids to participate in sports. Also, set an example by walking, cycling, swimming or playing ball with your kids.

2. Be aware of what your kids are eating. Make sure you know what the tuck shop at school is selling. More importantly, give your kids healthy food at home.

3. Reduce sedentary time by limiting screen time. This also applies during mealtimes. Promote conscious eating by turning off the TV, radio and computer during meals or snack times. A recent study reported that children who snacked while watching TV ate more than children who ate their snack at the table.

4. Create a healthy Tribe by letting your family and friends know you are creating a healthy environment for your kids and ask them to support this.

5. Sleep! Recent studies have shown that kids who get fewer than the recommended number of hours of sleep are at higher risk for being overweight. School-aged children usually need about 10 hours of sleep each night.

6. Avoid using sweets and treats as a reward. Kids crave our attention and approval more than any treat we can imagine. A big hug at the end of the day can be just as satisfying as a box of Smarties.

7. Spend quality time as a family eating together. Lead by example as kids learn to make good food choices by watching their parents.

8. Avoid teasing kids about their weight. Focus on healthy, positive lifestyle changes and make sure they don’t relate their self-worth to body size.

A culture of cuteness is an interesting phenomenon experienced by parents of chubby kids. For the longest time, those cherub cheeks and dimpled knees is enough to put a silly smile on your face instantly. But as Fatimah experienced as they grow older that cuteness can easily mask the symptoms of childhood obesity, a penchant toward sedentary activity and a lack of being able to distinguish between eating for hunger and fun.

Fatimah’s advice is to first identify the symptoms then have a plan of action:

– The first step was to increase her daughter’s general level of physical activity. This was solved by her joining the newly formed local girls touch rugby club, where she has developed an interest in team sport and throwing a rugby ball (surprisingly).

– The second step was for Fatimah to identify safe spaces in and near their home, for her daughter to play and to teach her skills like bike riding, road safety and assessing stranger danger.

– The third step was to try to re-define the relationship her daughter has with food. This has been the trickiest step to date. Fatimah wants to empower her daughter with an arsenal of healthy inputs so she again sees food as a source of nourishment rather than entertainment.