Want to hear something pretty scary? One in four Aussie kids is overweight.
These numbers have been rapidly increasing since the 80s and show no signs of slowing down – unless we take action.
Child obesity is a complex problem that poses some serious and long-term health consequences for our kids. There’s diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, all of which are linked to obesity. Not to mention the mental health implications of obesity: depression, anxiety, low self-esteem. No parent wants these health concerns for their kids, especially if they are completely preventable.
But before we look at how to reduce child obesity, let’s have a look at some of the factors causing the increase in child obesity in Australia.
Put the iPads down, kids
There’s a number of reasons why child obesity is becoming more and more of an issue.
One main concern? Our obsession with screen time. It’s everywhere! And it never used to be. Not when we were kids. Back in the day, the technology was a lot less awesome. iPads didn’t exist and there was only so much Sonic the Hedgehog you could handle before getting annoyed with him (and his stupid sidekick, Tails).
But now there’s game consoles, Netflix, computer gaming, iPads, YouTube, social media and apps designed to keep our little kids glued to the screen for hours and hours on end.
Another reason child obesity statistics are rising is simply that our kids are less active. In the 80s kids would play outside ALL the time. I swear I would spend all weekend outside, running around the neighbourhood, building tree houses and bike jumps, playing tiggy with the other kids.
But now kids don’t have that much freedom. It’s not safe and letting our kids play unsupervised is frowned upon. Even going to the playground can pose a risk these days. Which means they are spending more time indoors.
Eat well, live well
Another problem? Our busy lifestyles and food choices. Sometimes reaching for the prepackaged snacks or stopping at the drive-thru on the way home is all we have time to do. And that’s okay, as long as it’s not happening on a regular basis.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that excessive weight gain is directly linked to our behaviour. For example, eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, consuming sugar-packed beverages, not getting enough physical activity, sedentary activities such as watching television or other screen devices, and poor sleep routines can all impact your child’s weight.
Reducing child obesity
It’s easy to blame society for the growing child obesity statistics. And Netflix for making a stream of endless cartoons for the kids to watch. Oh, and Maccas for having such cheap kids’ meals.
But we parents still need to step up and try to educate our kids on healthy behaviours and steer them away from the screens, TV, and sugary snacks as much as we can.
Here are a few ways to do that:
Set up a no screen-time
Read our guide to dealing with screen obsession. And set up a time every day where ALL screens are off-limits.
If your kids can’t adhere to this, collect all iPads, remote controls and phones and chuck them into a drawer that they cannot access.
Sign the kids up for after-school activities
Soccer, swimming, tennis, gymnastics, golf – there are so many different after-school activities on offer, all of which are great for keeping kids busy and off their butts.
But what if you don’t have the time to chauffeur the kids here, there and everywhere after school? Share the load with other activity-loving-mums and take turns doing the sport drop off every week.
Plan for daily family exercise
Not keen on letting your kids roam the streets and wander to the nearest park alone? Then go with them. That’s right. Put on your trainers and activewear and wander down as a family.
Park too far away? Make it a mission to do SOMETHING active every day after school with the kids, even if it’s just a 15 minute game of backyard soccer.
Consider a fitness tracker
Kids love them and you can easily keep track of their steps to ensure they are doing enough. Aim for 10,000 to 15,000 a day. It’s a great way to motivate kids and get them interested in their activity levels
If the kids aren’t reaching their goals, send them for a run around the block to burn up some of that excess energy and get those steps up.
Aim to do a family walk one day a week
Even if the kids complain the whole time, force them to get up and go. My kids used to HATE it when I would force them off the couch and make them walk with me. Now they enjoy it.
We check out the different houses in the neighbourhood, we collect weird-looking sticks, we chat about school and work. It’s really nice, actually.
Make your backyard fun
Trampolines, skipping ropes, frisbees, scooters, pogo sticks, an assortment of balls to throw around. Having these things outside can give them something to do.
And when they complain that there is nothing to do outside, you have a list of things to counteract their complaint.
Cut out the sugary stuff
Easier said than done, right? At the very least, try to limit the pre-packaged treats and snacks. Look for healthier alternatives. The health star rating on foods can make this a little bit easier.
If you really love the sweets (like I do), then look for no-sugar or low-sugar options. It’s not ideal, but, hey, it’s better than nothing! Or bake them yourself, this way you can track how much sugar you’re adding.
Know how much is too much
Check out our toddler eating guide to help control portion sizes. Sometimes a simple action, like reducing your meal size by eating off a smaller plate, can make a really big difference.
Meal plan and freeze
Spend a couple of hours on the weekend doing a big cook-up and making freezer-friendly meals. Things like casseroles, lasagne, shepherd’s pie, that you can just pop in the oven. These are awesome for those extra late afternoons when you can’t be stuffed to cook a meal. And will stop you from getting take-out.
For the good of our kids
Kids, like adults, have very different bodies and metabolism rates. Some kids are naturally thin and lean and others have a bit of extra weight on them, even though they are super active and eat well.
Our goal as mums is to educate our kids and how to stay healthy and happy. But our goal as a society should be to get that one-in-four number down. Compared to other countries, our obesity rate in Australia is through the roof. It’s not a good look and it’s time to do something about it – for the good of our kids.