Childhood obesity is increasing throughout Britain but there are steps that can be taken to ensure your child is not at risk.
More than four million British children were classified as too fat, according to researchers at Imperial College London and the World Health Organisation last year.
Now another culprit for unhealthy body weight in children has been identified: vitamin D, which is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’.
A recent study published in Pediatric Obsesity discovered that pregnant women who had a vitamin D deficiency were more likely to give birth to children who would suffer from obesity.
A new study by Pediatric Obesity found that pregnant women with a vitamin D deficiency are more likely to have obese children (file photo)
In Greece, where the research was undertaken on over 500 mother-child pairs, about 66 percent of the pregnant women in the study had insufficient vitamin D in the first trimester.
In an article for Healthista, nutritionist Edwina Revel lists some of the ways to help your child stay a healthy weight.
‘The multiplicity of causes of obesity has led to lots of research into the issue’, says paediatric nutritionist Edwina, programme director at Early Start Group.
‘There are so many risks associated and there isn’t just one thing. I haven’t seen a lot of other studies showing the link between vitamin D and obesity and it’s very early days.
‘However a positive message we can take from it is the importance of vitamin D’, says Edwina. ‘It is required for good bone health as it helps to regulate the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the diet. Vitamin D is required also for healthy muscles.’
It’s for this reason that Public Health England recommends that everyone in the UK should take a vitamin D supplement during Autumn and Winter months to counteract not only the lack of sunshine but also our increasingly indoor lifestyles and processed diets.
Here, Edwina Revel provides her key tips for preventing childhood obesity.
1. Breastfeed your child if possible
Breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for infants. The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding [no other liquids or solids] for the first six months of life as it provides all the nutrients a baby needs. It reduces their risk of obesity in later childhood, with every month of breastfeeding associated with a four per cent decrease in risk.
2. Eat a balanced and healthy diet
We should all aim to eat a healthy, varied diet based on the principles of the Eatwell guide, to meet our energy requirements. It is important to get the balance right. Children need regular meals and healthy snacks to get all the energy they need as part of an active lifestyle.
Breastfeeding, offering smaller meal portions and getting plenty of sleep are all methods to help your child be a healthy weight (file photo)
3. Keep your children active
Children in the UK now are less physically fit than past generations which has implications for their future health. Current studies show that only nine per cent of boys and ten per cent of girls aged two to four years of age are meeting their activity recommendations. Children under five years should be active for at least three hours spread across the day.
Young people are spending more time playing and socialising online than watching television programmes. Statistics show that children aged seven to 16 spend an average of three hours a day online, and that watching TV for more than eight hours a week may be a risk for obesity. It is important for children to think about increasing the types of activities that suit their lifestyle and can be easily included in the day. Ask children what activities they enjoy. Encourage them to follow their interests and make activity fun.
4. Offer smaller portions at first
The appetites of children will vary and it is important that children are allowed to eat to appetite at mealtime. From birth infants are able to regulate their own appetite and energy intake. They will eat the right amount of food to meet their body’s energy needs. Encourage children to recognise the signs of hunger and the signs of fullness. It is important not to teach children to over-ride their sense of fullness.
Offer smaller portions at first. It is OK to give second helpings if the child has eaten everything and is asking for more. Remember that second helpings should still be nutritionally balanced. Offer second helpings of the vegetables, salad or fruit. Encourage children to eat slowly, chew their food well and pause between mouthfuls. Perhaps try putting the knife and fork down between each mouthful.
5. Take your family history into account
One of the causes of obesity is family weight history. The risk increases when both parents are obese by 19.8 per cent, and 8.4 per cent if one parent is obese. It’s important for the parent to take the initiative and think about family meal times. That might be doing some cooking activities as a family or changing some simple traditions. Instead of ordering a pizza, get some pitta bread, add tomato puree and some pizza toppings. It’s about installing a love around food as a family event, not just focusing on the child whilst the parent eats crisps in the corner!
6. Ensure your child is getting plenty of sleep
Another risk factor for obesity is sleeping fewer than ten hours each night. For children aged between one and three, 11-12 hours a night is recommended. If a child isn’t getting enough sleep they’re likely to be more lethargic in the day which can impact on their activity and they will be more likely to snack on high energy foods when not necessarily hungry. To help them sleep better and wake up feeling more energised, try to turn the TV off earlier in the day and look at bedtime routines such as reading a book or playing a game as family.
7. Try not to fry your food
Grill, boil or bake foods without adding fat, rather than frying. Don’t forget the drinks – go for low-calorie drinks such as semi skimmed milk and of course water. Make sure you avoid giving them sugary drinks such as juice drinks and squashes.
‘It is important to recognise that at certain times of the year in the UK, we may not obtain an adequate amount of vitamin D from sunlight and diet alone in order to prevent deficiency’, says Edwina.
This article originally appeared on and has been reproduced with the permission of Healthista.