Parents need to intervene early when they see their children are overweight, to prevent any associated health risks and help them grow up into healthy adults.
That’s the message from Imperial College of London Diabetes Centre’s pediatric endocrinologist and diabetologist, Dr Sherif El-Refee.
“It is estimated that around 40 percent of children in the UAE are either overweight or obese,” says the Abu Dhabi-based specialist. “And obesity increases their risk for a host of serious conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, breathing problems and fatty liver disease.
“Without intervention obesity can continue into adulthood with further risk of heart disease and cancer.”
Then there are the immediate psychological consequences, which come when children are stigmatized by their peers because of their weight. Being on the receiving end of abuse and bullying about their bodies can damage self-esteem and lead to social isolation, even in the long term.
Parents need to get actively involved in their children’s nutrition, says Dr El-Refee. As they are still growing, a calorie-reduced diet without medical supervision is not appropriate.
“The most important measures parents can take are to check that their children eat a nutritionally sound diet, that they exercise enough to burn off the calories consumed and that they ask for help from a doctor or specialist if they suspect their children need to lose weight,” he says.
Dr El-Refee’s tips for parents of overweight children:
- Children learn by example, so be sure to set a good one by eating healthily and exercising regularly. Adopt healthy habits as a family – for example, by serving reasonably-sized portions at meal times and concentrating on vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean meats.
- Find creative ways to make children’s favourite dishes healthier by adjusting the ingredients and also look for recipes to make healthy foods more appealing.
- Do not store snacks or sweets in easily accessible areas and do not use them as treats;. Instead, substitute non-food treats such as an outing to their favorite place.
- Encourage your child to do at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity such as walking, soccer or playing tag, every day or most days.
- Make full use of the physical activity programs offered at your child’s school and attend sporting events to support and encourage your children.
- Limit your child’s screen time to about two hours per day and encourage them to do physical activity instead.
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