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Parenting - Encouraging Healthy Eating With Pat Rees

Wednesday, 16 May 2007


As it is revealed that Ireland has the highest levels of childhood obesity, our parenting expert has advice on how to encourage your kids to eat healthily.

The Facts
Ireland has the highest levels of childhood obesity in Europe. As overweight children are likely to become overweight adults, it is important that parent's try to encourage a healthy attitude toward eating from Day 1. If our children already have a weight problem, we need to change the way they think about food and help them apply those changes for the rest of their lives.

The 2005 National Children's Food Survey found that one in five Irish children are overweight. The European ratio is one in six and its one in four in the US. It also found that 89% of meals were eaten in the home, 11% of boys and 12% of girls were overweight and that 9% of boys and 12% of girls were obese. Children as young as two are being treated for obesity in Ireland. The Tallaght Clinic in Ireland is currently the only facility in the country set up to deal with childhood obesity. More than 100 children aged between two to 18 years old attend the clinic with as many as three new cases each week.

Children could develop type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer and heart disease if they failed to control their weight.

Food And Emotion
Food can be so easily affected by feelings because eating and emotion are very closely tied together from a young age. Think about it. When a child is upset or sick, their appetite goes. We need to look at how bad habits are created. Ask yourself the question; are your children's mealtimes' battle grounds instead of a happy occasion? Do your children use food as a way of gaining attention? If so, how might this have been encouraged? What do we gain out of giving our child a sweet for being good? We are creating the wrong association from an early age.

The Role of the Parent
Do not underestimate how important the role of the parent is in creating correct eating associations. The importance also of how parents react to eating problems is also vital. We can either make them get bigger or hopefully go away. Important points to remember:
. Do not get upset if your child does not eat.
. You cannot make a child eat, but they won't starve
. Fussy eaters are made, not born

The following guidelines should encourage healthy eating.

Practical Guidelines To Encourage Healthy Eating
The important thing is to start at the beginning with a good eating example and pattern.
. Only buy what your child should eat. Lead by example. Make a wide variety of healthy choices available in the house. This will mean you encourage rather than dictate your child's choices.
. Don't completely ban sweet things. Allowing them in moderation e.g. once or twice a week is a healthy option as your child will not get resentful about the forbidden fruit and eat twice the amount to spite you.
. Have family meals at the table as a family. Always encourage table talk. Make mealtimes a happy time, not a time to argue. If mealtimes are unpleasant, children may try to eat faster to leave the table as soon as possible. They then may learn to associate eating with stress.
. Teach table manners. Encourage your child to eat slowly. Lead by example. A child, like anyone, can detect hunger and fullness when eating slowly.
. Try not to use food to punish or reward your child. This is creating all of the wrong associations.
. If a child wants to skip an occasional meal, do not turn it into a battleground. For example, when a young toddler refuses a meal, forcing it is the wrong thing to do.  Try them with the spoon a couple of times and if they refuse, remove the meal from them. Don't then; give them unhealthy snacks to fill up on because you are worried they will starve. If they were that hungry, they would have eaten the meal in the first place. Wait 30 minutes and try again. If you are still unsuccessful, offer a healthy alternative.
. If your child is overweight, never place them on a restrictive diet. This is never the right way for a child to lose weight. Visit your dietician and together you can agree on a realistic healthy eating plan that will not interfere with your child's growth and development. Also, do not allow your child to follow a faddy diet which might leave out essential nutrients. Teach them the food pyramid from a young age and make it fun.
. Get out and exercise as a family. Be a role model. Regular activity, combined with healthy activity makes for a healthy heart. If you are having fun being physical, your children will be encouraged to do the same. Introduce the Sunday family walk up the mountains that we all did when we were younger.

For More Information
Practical Parenting - An Irish Survival Guide by Pat Rees is available in book stores nationwide priced at €13.00

Practical Parenting - An Irish Survival Guide by Pat Rees is available in book stores nationwide priced at €13.00