Fighting Obesity In Children

World Obesity Day is a day to raise awareness about the global obesity epidemic and to promote action to address this growing health crisis.  Obesity in children is a growing concern worldwide.  It is a major public health issue that can have serious long-term consequences for children’s health and well-being. In this blog we will look at some of the factors contributing to the increase in childhood obesity and offer some healthy and affordable family meal suggestions.

What Causes Childhood Obesity?

Childhood obesity is caused by a range of factors.  Unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles, and a lack of access to physical activity opportunities.  These all play an important part in the increased rates of childhood obesity.

Should Rising Childhood Obesity Concern Us?

Children who are obese are at increased risk of developing a range of health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. They are also more likely to experience stigma and discrimination and to suffer from low self-esteem and poor mental health

Correlation Of Gaming And Obesity

In recent years, gaming has become an increasingly popular pastime among children and teenagers. While gaming can be a fun and engaging form of entertainment, it can also contribute to childhood obesity if not balanced with physical activity and healthy eating habits.

Studies have shown that prolonged periods of gaming can lead to decreased physical activity.  Decreased activity equals decreased energy expenditure and this can contribute to weight gain. Additionally, gaming often involves snacking on unhealthy foods.  When our children are enthralled in their games they want a quick and easy snack so as not to interrupt their game time.  As such, they typically reach for junk food and sugary drinks, which can also contribute to weight gain.

Advertising and Childhood Obesity

Another contributing factor to this issue is the advertising of high-fat and high-sugar products to children. These adverts are often targeted towards children and can influence their food choices, leading to unhealthy diets and weight gain.

Studies have shown that children exposed to food advertisements tend to consume more high-fat and high-sugar products than children who are not exposed to these advertisements. Additionally, advertisements for junk food are often more appealing to children, making them more likely to choose these unhealthy options.

The impact of these advertisements on children can be significant, as they can lead to the development of unhealthy eating habits that can last a lifetime. Children who consume high-fat and high-sugar diets are at increased risk for developing obesity, as well as other health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.

Effect on low pricing on junk food

We’ve all noticed the price increases on all our visits to the supermarket lately.  But, the problem of increased food prices is exasperated when comparing prices between junk food and healthy choices. Junk food is often priced much lower than healthy food, making it more accessible and affordable for low-income families.

Studies have shown that low-income families are more likely to choose unhealthy, processed foods due to their lower prices and convenience. On the other hand, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy foods are often more expensive.  This often means that those on a tight budget are unable to ensure that they buy quality foods.

The impact of this disparity in pricing can be significant, leading to higher rates of obesity and other health problems in low-income families. A diet high in junk food and processed foods can lead to weight gain, increased risk of heart disease, and other health problems.

Addressing Childhood Obesity

To address the problem of childhood obesity a multi-faceted approach is required. 

It is important to promote healthy lifestyle habits and to create supportive environments that encourage physical activity and healthy eating. This can include:

  •  providing access to healthy food options in schools and communities; 
  • promoting physical activity through sports and recreation programs;
  • ensuring that children engage in some sort of physical activity for at least an hour a day;
  • working to reduce the marketing and availability of unhealthy foods and drinks;
  • limiting where possible the consumption of processed food and sugary drinks.  Sugary drinks in particular are 100% empty calories which provide zero nutritional value;
  • Government initiatives to raise awareness about the importance of healthy lifestyles.  This can be done in many ways, for example:  
    • Education and outreach programs;
    • By providing support and resources for children and families who are struggling with obesity;
    • By providing subsidies for healthy foods and tax incentives for companies that provide healthy food options;
    • Regulating the advertising of high-fat and high-sugar products to children. This can include limiting the amount of junk food advertisements on children’s television programs, as well as promoting healthy eating habits through educational campaigns.

How To Buy Healthy Food For Less

As we know, healthy eating is important for everyone but can be especially challenging for families on a low income. The cost of fresh, whole foods can be prohibitive, leading many families to rely on processed, unhealthy options. However, with some careful planning and smart shopping, it is possible for everyone to make healthy food choices that fit within their budget.

One strategy is to focus on staple foods that are both healthy and affordable. This can include whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal, as well as legumes like lentils and beans. These foods are versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes, making it easier to stretch them over several meals.

Another strategy is to buy fresh produce in season when it is typically less expensive. Frozen fruits and vegetables can also be a cost-effective option, and are just as nutritious as fresh produce. When shopping for meat, look for lean cuts and choose plant-based protein sources, like tofu and tempeh, which can be more affordable than meat.

Planning ahead can also help families save money on food. Meal planning, making a shopping list, and sticking to it can help reduce impulse purchases and minimise waste. Taking advantage of bulk-purchasing options can also help stretch the food budget further.

Where available, the use of discount coupons is also a way to help reduce the cost of the weekly shop.

How Do I Even Get My Kids To Eat Healthy Food?

Now, this is the million-dollar question isn’t it?  If your kids are anything like mine they will be fussy!  Whilst Evan (my 12-year-old) will try pretty much anything and has an amazingly well-developed palate, Jamie (aged 8) is a nightmare when it comes to food!  Anything with bits is a no-go!  Red bits, orange bits, green bits, and onions(!) lead to a total meltdown.  So what to do?  Do you give in to processed foods for convenience and to protect your sanity??

  • One tip is to sneak vegetables into sauces.  Puree vegetables such as spinach, carrots, and courgettes and add them to pasta or pizza sauce or soup.
  • Make your own “junk food” alternatives by limiting additives in the foods that they will eat.  Making your own healthy chicken nuggets, fish fingers, pizzas and burgers will mean you can control what goes into them avoiding unnecessary salt, sugar and other preservatives.
  • Bake or air-fry instead of frying to reduce the fat and calorie content of unhealthy food options.
  • Make healthy breakfast bars or snacks which your children can enjoy on the go without having to reach for processed biscuits (yummy as they are!)
  • Getting children involved in meal planning or preparation can make them more likely to try new foods. 
  • With younger children, making healthy food look fun can encourage them to try it.  Cut fruit and vegetables into fun shapes or use colourful plates and utensils.
  • Choose your battles and limit their unhealthy food choices.  Offer healthy options like water, milk or 100% fruit juice instead of sugar-laden soft drinks.

Healthy Family Meals

Breakfast Ideas

Make big batches of these on the weekend.  They freeze well and give you more free time on busy school mornings.

  • Overnight Oats.  This recipe is so easy to make and the whole family will enjoy a quick, filling and delicious breakfast.  I top mine with berries and walnuts for added nutrition.
  • Greek yoghurt with berries.  Avoid yoghurts aimed at children which are often full of sugar.  Instead, introduce Greek yoghurt topped with bananas or berries and some maple syrup or honey for a touch of sweetness.  Add some chopped nuts or chia seeds for additional texture and nutrition.
  • Scrambled eggs:  A quick, tasty, nutritious and affordable breakfast.  If your child is willing to have some veggies then adding some peppers or spinach to the eggs will be a great way to get some of their five a day early on in the day. 
  • Smoothies:  Make a smoothie with frozen fruit, Greek yoghurt or almond milk.
  • Healthy Chocolate Chip muffins.  The hidden courgette (they won’t taste it!) is a perfect way to add some veggies to their diet without them even knowing about it.
  • Avocado toast:  This is an amazingly delicious breakfast if you can get your children to try it!  My niece Emily loves this.  Toast a slice of whole-grain bread and top with mashed avocado, some salt and pepper and a slight sprinkling of chilli flakes.  You can also add a hard-boiled egg, some turkey bacon or smoked salmon for added protein.
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich:  Spread natural peanut butter on a slice of whole-grain bread and top with a sliced banana.  You can also sprinkle some cinnamon for added flavour.
  • Pancakes
  • Baked Oatmeal Cups

Dinner or Packed Lunch Ideas

Making a big batch of your favourite dinner recipes will ensure you have tasty leftovers for school lunches. We’ve put together some meals which your kids will love.

  • Spaghetti and meatballs
  • Rosto
  • Chicken noodles
  • Sausage Pasta Bake
  • Breaded chicken roll (known as chicken enpanau roll in our house!)
  • Lasagne
  • Chicken Korma and rice
  • Mac and Cheese
  • Sheppard’s Pie
  • Chicken Enchiladas
  • Homemade Pizza
  • Chilli con Carne and rice
  • Tuna casserole
  • Arroz con atun

Snacks or Sweet Treats

Having a batch of these sweet (but healthy) treats to hand is perfect to avoid post sugary food crashes.

  • Frozen yoghurt bark
  • Energy Balls
  • Apple and peanut butter slices
  • Banana bites
  • Frozen yoghurt pops

Some kids will obviously be more willing to try healthy foods than others.  We hope that you will be able to introduce at least one or two of these healthier choices even to your pickiest child.

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