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HomepageInformation CentreGeneral Well Being for Children › Obesity in Children- The Silent Epidemic

Obesity in Children- The Silent Epidemic

                                       Obese Child


It is estimated that the rate of overweight children in Ireland has trebled in the last decade to over 300,000. In the US, 17% or 12.5 million kids are in the obese bracket.

Overweight or obesity is defined as an abnormal accumulation of fat that can impair health. The WHO defines obesity as being over a BMI of 30 while being over a BMI of 25 is overweight.

The fundamental cause of this is that the amount of calories consumed is greater than the amount of calories burned. So, increasing activity levels is important as well as dietary changes.

There are a number of issues with the modern diet. The first is that we have moved away from natural, unprocessed foods to forms that are far more processed. One of the best examples of this is wheat – in its natural form, wholegrain wheat is high in fibre, B vitamins, magnesium and many other nutrients. By the time arrives on our plate, it’s in the form of a slice of white bread as toast or a sandwich. Nutritionally, all that’s left is a highly processed grain that has calories and many additives but is missing all of those vital nutrients listed above that are so good for our health. So, we are eating foods that are far more refined, much higher in calories but much, much lower in vital nutrients that we need. This lack of nutrients sets us up to crave more food as our bodies struggle to ingest the nutrients that are missing from the food we eat.

A high sugar intake is probably one of the biggest problems in kids’ foods. Food manufacturers add in sugar in many different forms that lead kids to crave more of that food. When reading a food label, ingredients that sugar sources include high fructose corn syrup, maltose or dextrose.

A high sugar intake is one of the biggest causes of excess weight in kids. According to the American Heart Association, the average 4-8 year old consumes an average of 21 teaspoons of sugar a day in their diet. Could you imagine sitting there and feeding your child 21 teaspoons of sugar? Of course you wouldn’t. But foods like biscuits, ice cream and even supposedly healthy foods like cereals can contain a lot of added sugar. As discussed already in the Blood Sugar Balancing article a high intake of refined sugar product leads to weight gain, particularly around the tummy area. The weight in this area is much more active than fat deposited on other areas of the body. This is the type of fat that leads to diabetes.

The other problem is having a diet that is too high in fat. Kids need a certain amount of fat in their diets for a healthy, nervous system but it needs to be the right kind of fat, predominantly from oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado and a certain amount from animal products like dairy and meat. Unfortunately, in the modern diet kids get far too much of a fat called trans- or hydrogenated fats. These are man-made fats that are added to foods to prolong their shelf life and to make spreads more ‘spreadable’. These fats are really damaging to the nervous and immune systems and many food producers now have the ‘free from hydrogenated fat’ label on their products, so look out for this.

Increasing portion sizes is another contributor to obesity. Eating a diet that is high in unprocessed foods will automatically reduce salt and fat intake which reduces calorie intake. Making sure that your child’s plate is at least 1/3 full of vegetables is another good way to keep calorie intake under control.


Must Do's for Obese Children

1) Have breakfast within 1/2 hour of getting up every monring.  Blood sugar levels are low on waking.  Eating first thing will bring them back up again.  Also, skipping breakfast drives the body into starvation mode and it will drop the metabolic rate to compensate for what it sees as lack of food.

2) Eat regularly, ideally 5-6 times a day. The idea of eating a little and often is the best way to balance blood sugar levels. This also suits many kids, as they prefer grazing to eating three big meals.

3) Give them some protein each time they eat. Protein comes from meat, fish, chicken, eggs, yoghurt, cheese, milk, nuts, seeds, legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans etc), tofu and whole-grains like brown rice and quinoa. This slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream. These three steps will really help to reduce sugar cravings.

4) Include plenty of omega 3 foods in the diet such as oily fish, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Omega 3 makes cell membranes more fluid and more accessible to insulin. These fats also help to slow glucose release into the blood stream. Eliminate foods that contain hydrogenated fats – check foods labels for this.

5) Remove sugary foods like biscuits, sweets, fizzy drinks and concentrated fruit juices and replace with healthier options. Fruit juice should be diluted with water, gradually increasing the water content over time.

6) Always go for the whole-grains version of carbohydrates like brown rice, wholegrain pasta, etc

7) Make sure that lunch and dinner contain good portions of vegetables, preferably of different colours.


Recipes for Children with Obesity

Banana and Kiwi Smoothie

Summer Berry Smoothie

Broccoli Soup

Egg Cakes

Buckwheat Pancakes

Salmon with Mango Salsa

Roasted Pepper and Tomato Soup

Smooth Vegetable Curry Sauce

Spicy Fish Balls

Tuna Potato Cakes


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"Fantastic cookery and nutrition course which you ran last week for kids - my 8 year old daughter is still giving me advice about how bad transfats are and how broccolli is a super food !!!- She is looking forward to the next workshop:-) "

LP, Waterford


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