Healthlines: Our children come first



Alva Carpenter

Published — Wednesday 27 February 2013

Last update 27 February 2013 1:52 am

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Childhood obesity is not the fault of the child but of the adults who influence the child. Many doctors predict that this may be the first generation where we will see children dying before their parents. This is something that is hard to imagine but is this is due to an error in eating beliefs and practices.
Children today are growing up in a world that is changing very fast. Parents are busy: Often too busy with work stress and telephone calls to really take the time to be with their children and listen so that their children feel important and valued. Children's lives too have become over pressured by long hours of school, with hours of homework and too many examinations. It is very rare in England, even in the countryside, to see many children out playing in the woods and fields and getting exercise as we did when I was young. This is mainly due to the world being perceived as a very much more dangerous place for children.
In England children as young as six months are often left in the care of nurseries for long hours by their professional parents; sometimes for as long as 10 hours a day. Is this progress?
It is a well-studied fact that happy children who have had some degree of independence to play and explore go on to be far more successful than those who have been hot-housed in a classroom and closeted in their bedroom with their electronic games. There are many studies and plenty of expert opinions around but parents do need to think for themselves; and decide what is best for their own child to thrive and be healthy. Childhood is such a very short but important time and children should be encouraged to enjoy it.
The main causes of childhood obesity are poor eating habits; lack of physical activity; and insufficient sporting activity. If we feel that it is not safe for children to play outside then they need to be offered more physical activity at school to compensate. Sport should be part of the curriculum at schools not once or twice a week but every day. And parents should lobby for this.
Parents too should lead by example; children do not always do as we say but often copy what we do. If we eat junk food and spend our lives in front of screens they will grow up believing that that is how they should live their lives. Children should always feel they come first, not your career, and I always make it a point never to interrupt a conversation with my child to answer my phone. Children need at least one hour of physical activity per day to be healthy whereas adults need only thirty minutes.
Advertising has been used to make hamburgers and pizza appear as cool modern food for teenagers to be eating. American soaps show stars sitting on couches eating ice cream and chips and dips. There are so many habits of modern eating that are considered normal in the world that our children have grown up in that are not healthy. It is for grandparents and parents to educate their children on how healthy eating practices from the past compare with the factory processed food we now eat.
Portion sizes are also key to good health. Talk to your child about what is a normal portion size, as some children do not know. It is a difficult fact to get over to children as they have grown up with larger portions. This generation has grown up with the idea that a super-sized meal is good value for money. A mother, as the provider of food for the family, must think about how much food goes on to the table. If as a mother you put loads of food on the dinner table then your children will think they have the right to eat too much.
It is always important to make changes gradually over time and to be patient. If it has taken your child time to get into habits it will equally take time to get into new healthy eating habits.
The average restaurant meal is now four times larger than it was in the 1950s.
The average adult is now 26 pounds heavier than in the 1950s.
This is too big a subject to tackle in one article so please, if you are interested in helping your children to be more active please e-mail me at [email protected] for fact sheet on how to get your child more active.

Ask Alva
I am worried about my 16 year-old son’s weight and eating habits. Every evening while doing his homework he drinks two fizzy drinks, two packets of chips and a bar of chocolate and a packet of chewits.
— Samah

These are not good habits and they do have to change — these dietary choices put your child at increased risk for heart disease, Type II Diabetes, stroke and certain cancers in adult life.
I am sure that if you talk to your son sensibly about creating new healthy habits while having the occasional treat to look forward to he will listen and try to move toward healthier snacks. Decide together on one healthy snack and one evening treat.
Make sure you spend time with him in the evenings and discuss his homework and always have a family evening meal together where everyone gets the chance to talk about his or her day.
— Alva

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