The Lancet recently published an analysis of the largest study yet of obesity trends in more than 200 countries. The results make worrying reading for us all – but particularly for parents.
The report shows that obesity rates in children and adolescents around the world have risen tenfold in the last 40 years – and that one in ten Britons between the ages of five and 19 is now obese.
Obesity poses a major health risk to children and adults alike. It increases the chances of contracting heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. There are psychological consequences as well: when individuals feel they can’t control their eating habits, they feel anxious and often suffer from low self-esteem.
Researchers say the main reason for this rise is the widespread promotion and availability of cheap sugary and fatty foods. However, parents and carers also have a critical role to play, because they teach and allow children to form habits that will influence their eating behaviours and attitudes towards food for the rest of their lives.
The Christmas holiday provides the perfect opportunity to teach your children some healthy eating habits. What’s the best way to go about this?
- Behave as you hope they will. You are your children’s most important role models. The way you behave is more important in the long term than anything you say. Make healthy food choices, eat at regular times and eat with your children whenever you can.
- Watch what you say. Be particularly aware of how you talk about food and weight. Rather than referring to food as a “dangerous temptation” and instead of talking in negative terms about weight and body size, enjoy what you eat, praise what’s beautiful and attractive about each of your children, and speak of meals as a source of pleasure and energy.
- Shop with care. Fill your home with delicious wholesome foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein (turkey is a great choice), and wholegrains instead of sugary, salty, additive-laden offerings.
- Read food labels carefully; the longer the list of ingredients, the more likely it is that the item is full of additives and sugars.
- Teach your children how to cook and bake. Christmas offers a perfect opportunity for family baking. If your children learn how to put together simple tasty dishes, they’ll soon realise this is more fun, cheaper, and far more creative than removing the packaging and microwaving a bland, additive-laden offering.
- Eat in awareness. Turn off electronic devices and sit down together so you can all focus on what you’re eating. If they’re not multi-tasking, your children will know when they’ve eaten enough. And if mealtimes are enjoyable social occasions, they’ll learn to associate good food with feeling valued and worthy of your time.
Linda Blair is a clinical psychologist and author of Siblings: How to Handle Rivalry and Create Lifelong Loving Bonds. To order for £10.99, call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk.
Watch her give advice at telegraph.co.uk/wellbeing/ video/mind-healing