Act now to develop healthy habits

It’s the topic people tend to shy away from, but childhood obesity is as important as the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s time for everyone to take action.

In Australia, it is estimated one in four children and adolescents between 2 – 17 years of age live with overweight or obesity. What’s more concerning is these figures have changed little over the past decade and are highly likely to have increased with the impact of COVID, as has been found from data in other parts of the world.

Children who fall into these categories are not only more likely to develop a chronic health condition like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, joint problems, depression or anxiety, but are also at increased risk of developing other serious diseases in the future like chronic kidney disease and some cancers.

The good news is there is something that can be done about it, and by implementing these Eight Healthy Habits at home, parents can not only help their children, but also help model healthy behaviours for their friends and family.

  1. Make water your drink of choice
    Instead of turning to soft drink, juice or cordial, which are often loaded with sugar, choose H2O instead. Not only does it hydrate the body, but it can help children have clearer minds to think and learn.

  2. Eat five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day
    Children are encouraged to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. The amount that a child will eat at one time will depend on age, appetite and activity levels but including raw and cooked fruit and vegetables in a range of different colours can help achieve this.
    (2-3 year olds should eat 2 ½ serves of vegetables and 1 serve of fruit)

  3. Start each day with a healthy breakfast
    The saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” exists for a reason. A healthy breakfast will give your child the fuel they need every day to learn and play.

  4. Know your portion/serving size
    Children require varied amounts of nutrients and energy, depending on their age and developmental stage to maintain good health. Providing enough food, and of the right portions, helps them reach optimal functioning. Learn more about portion sizing.

  5. Choose healthier snacks and fewer treat foods
    Snacks such as yoghurt, fruit and chopped vegetables will provide children with the nutrients and fuel their bodies need. Treat foods such as chips, sweets, baked goods are high in sugar, salt and fat. They have limited nutrtional value and provide little fuel for the body.

  6. Limit leisure screen time
    Excessive screen time can lead to a number of negative health outcomes including weight gain, poor sleep and neck, back and eye strain as well as fatigue. The guidelines recommend no screen time for children under 24 months, no more than one hour a day for 2 - 5 year olds and a maximum two hours a day for children 6 years and older.

  7. Be active for at least one hour a day
    Physical activity is important for growth and development and helps children to maintain a healthy weight. It has also been show to help in lowering anxiety and stress, improving concentration, and improving coordination and movement skills.
    Note: Recommendations for activity length and type vary for children under five years. Read more.

  8. Get enough sleep
    The impact of sleep is often under-estimated but it does play a big role in weight management. This is because the hormones responsible for triggering hunger and monitoring fullness are regulated during sleep. Getting enough sleep can also positively impact concentration, brain function, performance and our immune system while reducing the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, mental illnesses and type 2 diabetes. To establish and maintain healthy sleep patterns, we recommend having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, avoiding screen time one hour before sleep and keeping screens out of the bedroom. See more on the sleep guidelines for each child’s age group.

While the Eight Healthy Habits are important for children, these changes can be incorporated into everyone’s lifestyle, no matter their age.

It’s important to remember it’s never too late to make a positive change whatever your age, sex or weight and you don’t have to do it alone.

If your child has extra weight gain, you can:

  • Talk to your healthcare professional – they can help monitor the growth and weight of your child and refer you to other services if needed.
  • Get involved in the Go4Fun program - this is a free, fun program for children 7 – 13 years to become fitter, healthier and happier. Speak to your GP about a referral.
  • Join in the Think Eat And Move (TEAM) programthisis a healthy lifestyle program for young people aged 13 – 17. It is free for young people in the Central and Eastern Sydney areas
  • Read the Crunch to Health book – this is a great guide to healthy eating in children. It has some great recipes to help you create tasty and nutritious meals for your child.
  • Call the Get Healthy helpline - this is a free telephone health information and coaching service for people aged 16 years old and above.

March 4th marks World Obesity Day and is an important opportunity to raise awareness about the condition, it’s prevalence around the globe and the ways people can make a positive change to ensure happier, healthier, and longer lives for everybody.