Childhood obesity: how to help children have a healthy weight

Posted by Xanit Internacional Xanit Internacional | Posted in Various, Xanit salud | Posted on 13-01-2020

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In recent years the percentage of obese children has been much higher than 20 years ago, when there was no talk of improving healthy lifestyle habits among children, according to the Paediatrics Department at Vithas Xanit International Hospital

Obviously, over the course of years, we have changed our way of living and that has harmed our health. As a society in general, we are increasingly leading a sedentary lifestyle, we are subjected to stress and the level of pollution increases day by day. The Mediterranean diet that we are so proud of is being swapped for processed meals, we do not sit down to eat with the family and do not exercise enough.

To try to understand the danger of childhood obesity and how to overcome it, we spoke with a specialist in this topic: Dr Pablo Ercoli, a paediatrician at Vithas Xanit International Hospital. The first question that we would like to ask the specialist is obvious:

 

From what parameters can you say that a child is obese?

By linking the weight and height of the child, we can get a parameter called Body Mass Index (BMI). If we compare it with a population of the same age and sex, we will be able to know if, within these parameters, the index is high or low, which is quantified by the so-called percentiles. In this case, percentiles express the percentage of the population with a lower BMI than the studied individual. Children between the 90th and 97th percentile would be defined as overweight patients. Those above the 97th percentile would fall within the definition of obesity.

 

Consequences of obesity on children’s health

Today we know that obesity is a proinflammatory state, which worsens the current and also future health of the child (diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, etc.). Specifically, it generates various problems, from joint pain, back pain or trouble breathing well, especially when sleeping. There are also other triggers for childhood obesity, such as increasingly evident problems arising at school in the form of bullying, which is usually what makes the child and the family consult a specialist.

As previously said, as likely health consequences, in adulthood obese children will suffer from hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, heart problems to name a few. It goes without saying that it is always better to prevent these pathologies rather than having to fight them later on in life!

Are there differences between the feeding of a boy and a girl?

Healthy and varied eating should be the same for everyone, although it is true, for example, that in adolescence more iron intake is recommended for girls and more calories in boys.

As for the recommended daily calories, they depend closely on the age and specific needs of each child. Although paediatricians usually calculate individual caloric needs, it is generally better to focus on healthy eating, without calorie numbers as we adults do.

 

Healthy foods for proper feeding of children

In general, children should eat everything, as long as it is healthy.

Fruits and vegetables can never be missed. It is advisable to eat three pieces of fruit and 2 servings of vegetables a day, 5 in total, like the fingers of one hand! And if both are seasonal, it’s better.

Fish and legumes are also very important. Another food that can never be missing to accompany our meals is olive oil, however, in the amounts recommended for its high caloric load.

Also, there is increasing emphasis on the importance of the consumption of natural nuts, and processed nuts (fried, salted, ticked, etc.) should be avoided.

Finally, we will have to avoid processed and ultra-processed foods, excess salt, sugars, fats and proteins. Avoid specially packaged juices, pastries and sugary drinks.

 

Fewer fresh juices and more fruit pieces for children

Let’s take orange juice as an example. To fill a glass, squeezing without pulp, we will need about six oranges. That brings us too many sugars.

Besides, its absorption rate, which is called the “glycemic index”, is also essential. By extracting the juice from any fruit we make this glycemic index much higher, almost similar to that of refined sugars (sweets, pastries, etc.), which has known negative effects on health. Taking the whole fruit, in addition to reducing the net amount of sugar that is ingested, causes that, thanks to the pulp and the rest of its components, the glycemic index is considerably reduced, which results in a very positive way in health.

Therefore, it is certainly preferable to eat one or two whole oranges than a glass of natural juice made from several squeezed oranges.

 

How parents should act with an overweight child

The first thing is to assume that there is a problem and that it also has a solution.

A correct diet and proper exercise will make your child enjoy a full, healthy life now and when they grow up.

Overweight, obesity and undernourishment can be included in the concept of malnutrition. It is likely that even if a single family member has the diagnosis, everyone in the house has dietary habits that can be improved. It makes us think that malnutrition is a family and social problem rather than that of a single person, and that changing habits will improve the quality of life of everyone in the house.

We have to eat again as a family, taking our time, without watching television while we are eating. Going back to the “spoon” meal, grandmother’s recipes and the Mediterranean diet of local products. Besides, if we combine it with exercise, we will have healthy habits for life!

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