Although the statistics of recent years in Portugal are encouraging – with the overweight child population in 2019 standing at 29.6%, in contrast to 37.9% in 2008 –the truth is that obesity remains one of the main public health concerns, according to the National Program for the Promotion of Healthy Eating, from the Directorate-General for Health (DGS). Worldwide, the prevalence of obesity is equal to or higher than that of malnutrition and infectious diseases, as referred to in the DGS program mentioned, which maintains that it is considered by the World Health Organization to be the global epidemic of the 21st century. It is a problem that tends to worsen with age,reducing an individual’s years of healthy life and is linked to numerous other potentially fatal health problems. Diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, high blood pressure and cholesterol are some of the increased risks. Bearing in mind that an obese child is more likely to become an obese adult, low self-esteem, stigma, bullying and mental illness are other consequences associated with obesity.
The obesity epidemic, however, is reversible and it is in everyone’s hands to help lower its incidence. Inadequate eating habits are the factors that most contribute to being overweight. They are associated with increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the absence of regular physical exercise. What this all means is that by changing consumption habits at the table and promoting active lifestyles we will obtain a healthier population who are also more responsible for their health. Excess weight results from dietary patterns in which the consumption of calories is much higher than those spent by the body in daily activities. An unbalanced diet, lacking in whole grains, fruits and vegetables are factors that contribute to excess weight and loss of quality of life.
Together, parents, school and society should promote healthy nutritional education, healthy living habits and implement routines that prevent sedentary lifestyles.
In addition to a rich, varied diet and in line with the latest revisions to the food guide, children’s routines should include early physical activities, sports and an outdoor life, such as is promoted at St. Peter’s International School. This balances the time spent inside closed spaces without physical activity, during study hours and in front of the computer and other technological devices.
The family should get involved and participate, informing and explaining to children the importance of healthy eating and habits that promote health and well-being. From the food parents choose in the supermarket to the preparation of meals and snacks, outdoor programs and sports, everything must converge towards the goal of an active and healthy life, in support of physical and mental well-being. This is how nutritional education begins and good habits for life take root, which must be replicated at school and find an echo in society. Once informed, the child will develop an awareness of the importance of a good diet and will know how to distinguish it from a poor, deficient one.
– Focus on health and the importance and nutritional potential of foods
– Do not set weight loss as a goal
– Teach and promote a positive attitude towards food and physical activity
– Do not make a different diet for the child, or exclusive routines aimed at their weight loss. Everyone should eat the same at home and participate in all activities
– Have healthy foods available that can be eaten during the day
– Define what should be served as a snack or between meals and what time they are served
– Family should always get together for meals
– Meals and snacks should, whenever possible, be on time
– Use common sense and get used to serving adequate portions. If you fill the plate too soon, the tendency will be to eat everything
– Eating in front of the television is not healthy. It distracts the brain, which may not achieve the necessary feeling of being full
– Do not prohibit sweets, but treat them as exceptions for special days. Keep sweet desserts for the weekend and eat fruit throughout the week
– Do not label food as good or bad. In moderation, any food can be part of a healthy diet
– Schedule family physical activities: bike rides, gymnastics in the park, walks with the dog, traditional games…
– Limit time spent on electronic equipment
It is complex to assess child obesity, as the body is constantly growing and developing. Just because parents realise that their child is overweight doesn’t mean they should immediately introduce a more restricted diet. Only a specialist doctor can make this clinical assessment, based on the child’s data and history. Children have different growth and development rates. Some extra weight may not reveal a propensity for obesity. In addition, any prescribed diet must provide the nutrients and energy necessary for healthy growth and the physical and mental development of the child.
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