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Help your children to stay a healthy weight

Worried about your kid's size? Weight-loss expert and former chair of the National Obesity Forum, Dr Ian Campbell provides handy pointers to help stop your children becoming obese.

Boots Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

You'd think our kids would be spoilt for (positive) choice, and fitter than ever thanks to an abundance of delicious healthy food, more readily available kids' activity clubs offering everything from sailing to rock climbing, plus a well-documented national campaign to make school dinners healthier and tastier.

And yet recent government statistics show that almost a third of UK children are now overweight, and one in four of those aged between two and 10 are clinically obese.

If we don't take action now, it's thought that 25% of our children could be obese by 2050.

Never before has the issue of kids' weight and fitness been such a concern. On top of the psychological effects, the knock-on health implications of being severely overweight at a young age are alarming, including an increased risk of type II diabetes, heart disease, and bone and joint disorders.

If a child consumes more energy through food and drink than he or she burns off, that extra energy will be stored in the body as fat. While the simple solution is to move about more and eat less, for the majority of children, this advice doesn't stick.

That's where we, as parents, need to step in.

Signs to look out for

There's nothing wrong with a bit of puppy fat, but being too heavy can be a sensitive issue to broach. The current press focus on overweight kids can send some parents into a panic about their child's weight. But most of the headlines are scaremongering, so the best thing you can do first off, is stay calm.

Asking your child to stand on a set of scales can be embarrassing and often observation is enough. If they appear large around the waist (children tend to store fat around the middle) and you have difficulty finding appropriately aged clothes to fit them, or your child is being teased at school about their weight, there may be a cause for concern.

Doctors and weight-loss professionals use the Body Mass Index (BMI = weight in kg/height in m2), to check whether you are a healthy weight for your height. But on its own, this is not an accurate approach for checking if your child is overweight. With children, BMI levels vary both as they grow and between the two sexes. This makes them harder to interpret, so you'll need to plot their BMI on a percentile chart to see the true picture.

Positive steps to take

If your child is showing signs of being overweight, the key is to make positive changes to your family's lifestyle as a whole.

Few children get the one hour of exercise they need every day to stay healthy, but any form of activity can be helpful, so if possible walk to school with them and encourage them to take part in after-school sports activities. Limit the hours they spend watching TV. Join in with the activities and you'll soon be having fun too. It's easy enough, just make sure you set aside a few hours every weekend and some weekday evenings to do something active as a family. So go for a bike ride, take a picnic and a Frisbee to the park or do some laps in the local pool.

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