Make Childhood Obesity the No.1 Health Priority for 2010 urges the Nutrition and Health Foundation.
10,000 more Irish kids set to become obese this year
There are plenty of statistics available that prove child obesity in Ireland has reached epidemic levels. Current figures show that 300,000 children are overweight or obese in Ireland with the number set to grow by 10,000 every year. 6 in 10 children who are overweight before puberty will be overweight in early adulthood. In 2008, 19% of teenage boys were found to be overweight compared to 6% in 1990. The “Growing up in Ireland 2009” study found one in four 9 year olds overweight or obese. The current situation demands serious attention. Obesity is preventable; the focus now needs to be on prevention and early intervention.
A new Dutch study has indicated that most parents in Holland do not realise if their four and five year olds are overweight or obese. Is the same true for Ireland? Research by McGloin and Delaney, 2007 has demonstrated that in Ireland the majority of mothers of overweight or obese children think that their children’s weight is fine for their age and those who may realise that there is a problem may think the challenge is too great to tackle.
“You only have to look around you to see that an unprecedented number of Irish children are carrying excess body weight which has both immediate and long-term consequences” says Dr Muireann Cullen, Manager of the Nutrition & Health Foundation. “Weight gain occurs as a result of energy imbalance, specifically when a child consumes more calories than the child uses. This excess weight significantly increases our childrens’ risk factors for a range of health problems both in childhood and adult life, including diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and emotional and mental health problems.
We know more than ever that there are a combination of factors that play a role in children’s weight”, continued Dr Muireann Cullen. “But the fundamental reason that our children are overweight is this: Too many children are eating too much and moving too little.”
Nutrition wise, Ireland has seen a dramatic change in the way we eat, what we eat, how often we eat it and how much we eat in a single sitting. Coupled with this, computers and video games have boomed along with the explosion of cable-television channels, which offer kids more sedentary activities than ever before. The result is a generation of children who are consuming too many calories and turning to visual media for the stimulation that earlier generations derived from physical activities such as football and other outdoor activities.
“Families live such busy lives that it is tough to prepare healthy meals and have enough time to get in some physical activity. But it is so important, because the choices that parents make now, the behaviours they learn now, will last a lifetime. It is very important to stress that most children will probably ‘grow’ into their weight so its all about weight maintenance rather than weight loss concluded Dr Cullen.
The NHF’s top tips to encourage Healthy Eating Habits
- Serve a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products (not until the age of 2 years). Provide children with a variety of foods to ensure they get all the nutrients they need for proper growth and development.
- Know how much food children need. Keep portion sizes in check to help children maintain their sense of self-regulation and to know when they are hungry and when they are full.
- Be a good role model for kids by eating together. Eating meals as a family has been shown to improve food choices and increase fruit and vegetable consumption.
- Keep treats as treats.
NHF’s top tips for Promoting Physical Activity
- Aim for children to accumulate a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day. Activity bouts can be all at once or in several bouts spread throughout the day.
- Increase opportunities for children to engage in physical activity throughout the day. Incorporating daily activity and physical education into the school day will help ensure that children are getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
- Be a good role model. Engage in activity with children.
- Limit computer and television time to less than two hours per day. Keep televisions and video games out of children’s bedrooms to help them limit the amount of screen time.
Visit www.nhfireland.ie for further information and tips on promoting a healthy diet and incorporating physical activity into daily life.
* based on data from the 2005 National Children’s Survey