Safefood in Ireland launches a campaign to fight childhood obesity today. Here are the facts: 1 in 4 children is overweight or obese. Obese children are likely to become obese adults. Many parents don't recognize when their child is overweight. 4 out of 5 children aren't getting enough physical activity. Safefood is also highlighting some of the short term effects: problems with bone health, breathing difficulties and psychological/social effects. And long term effects: cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
The statistics are grim, but statistics don't show us how to change our habits. Safefood is attempting to highlight the problem, but we need to create solutions.
Having spoken to children about healthy eating in classroom and group settings, there are a few ideas I want to share. We tell kids they'll get vitamins and minerals from food, but we don't tell them what that means. They learn the words but not the value or the practice. We tell them sugar is bad but we don't make it relatable. They're not understanding what has sugar, how much it has and how much is too much. We tell them to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, but we might not be giving them 5 portions per day!
I developed a few tools I think can help - please, download them and use them in your home or classroom.
To help children understand vitamins and minerals - what they are, what they do, how much we need, and what foods they're in - I've written 2 sheets that clearly explain what vitamins and minerals are and in what fruits and vegetables we find them.
To put into practice the healthy habit of eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, I created 2 printables. The first is a teddy bear dot-to-dot. It has 33 dots to connect plus 2 eyes. Kids color in a dot each time they eat a fruit or vegetable - if they color all 35 they'll have eaten 5 portions for the 7 days that week. The second is a Good For Me Sunflower. Again, they can color in a section each time they have a fruit or vegetable - there are 35 all together - 5 a day for 7 days. These not only help the kids see how many portions they're eating, it encourages us as parents and caregivers to actually serve or provide enough! Encourage kids to use the color of the fruit or vegetable they've eaten when coloring in - this way they can see how much (or how little) variety they're consuming.
Those are positive messages for kids. Don't be afraid to share some of the alarming truths so they can understand the importance of healthy eating and why we need to be concerned about it. Here's what I tell kids:
Nutrition means getting the food we need for health and growth. Why do you need to aware of it? Diet related illnesses for people my age have reached "epidemic" proportions. We're not doing a great
job for ourselves. And we're feeding you guys almost twice as much sugar as we had when we were kids. You can blame us when you're older and not feeling great, but that won't make you better. You need to learn why it's important to look after yourself.
Let's talk about what you don't want: sugar. I know you think you want it! And sugar is what our body burns for fuel - but we can get the sugar we need from natural food sources - when we have too much sugar, our body turns it into fat and stores it. Consuming too much sugar increases our risk for heart disease - even for young people! If we become obese, we increase our risk for a variety of cancers, diabetes, weak bones, breathing problems and more. Obesity is an epidemic in Ireland and globally. (Epidemic means it's a problem for a great number of people.) The World Health Organization says that body weight is now the most common childhood disease. In Ireland, more adults are facing obesity than smoke - and we know how bad smoking is. So, this is serious! And we need to change what we're eating and we can't wait.
One way to lower the amount of sugar you have is to cut out - or at least limit - sugary drinks. The World Health Organization recommends that you have no more than 45 grams of added sugar per day. Did you know that 1 can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar? A bottle of Lucozade has 64 grams! Even 1 cup of unsweetened apple juice has 24 grams of sugar. Make sure you're thinking of sugary drinks as treats - they're not what you should be drinking when you're thirsty. Water is really the best for that. And while we're on the subject of treats, let's remember the definition of that word: "an event or item that is out of the ordinary..." That means it's not something you have every day! Enjoy your treats, but keep them for special occasions.
Let's talk about what you do want: Eat 5 portions of fruits and vegetables every day - and eat a variety of them so you get lots of different vitamins and minerals. Eat protein, which helps to build and care for all of the material your body is made of: muscles, blood, organs, every cell. Protein also helps move those vitamins and minerals around your body so they can get to where they need to go. You get protein by eating meat, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. Eat grains, they give your body vitamins and minerals, too. They're also important for your digestive system (the way your body absorbs nutrition and moves it around your body). Some examples of grains are oats, rice, whole wheat flour, bread, pasta.
Eat/Drink dairy to help you develop strong bones and teeth. You can get dairy from milk, yogurt, cheese. And you also want to be active - that's the easy part: play, run, walk - get moving.
I hope this helps you to help the children in your life! They're worth it.