Foods that are high in added sugar and/or salt and saturated fat are plentiful. Unhealthy foods are widely available and marketed to children. There is easy availability of a wide variety of good-tasting, inexpensive, processed and energy-dense food and drinks that are often presented in larger portions than what we need. As a result we’re not eating enough of the healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables.
Screens are all around us and integrated into almost everything we do, driving often replaces walking and biking, and most days we’re presented with more opportunities to sit than opportunities to be active.
The physical environment is not conducive to physical activity opportunities. There is an increased dependence on screens and we’re sitting more. There’s significant decrease in outdoor recreation and active transportation and we’re sleeping less.
These lifestyle habits, regardless of weight, put your child at risk for: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol, liver disease, bone and joint problems, respiratory problems, sleep disorders, earlier than normal puberty or menstruation, disordered eating, skin infections and fatigue. The risk of ill health further increases if the child develops overweight and obesity.
Overweight or obesity in childhood can also result in serious psychological difficulties. Overweight or obese children are more likely to be bullied or bully others, may have poor self-esteem and may feel socially isolated. They may also be at increased risk for depression, may have poorer social skills and may have high stress and anxiety. They may also have behaviour and/or learning problems as a result of psychological difficulties related to childhood obesity.
If you are concerned that your child is above a healthy weight, it is important to visit your family doctor for an assessment. It’s also important to note that placing a normal or overweight child on a diet is known to harm a child’s health. It can affect their normal growth and development, and damage their developing self-esteem. Focusing on a child’s weight can stigmatize a child and may cause disordered eating. Focus on the child, not their weight. Regardless of your child’s weight or shape, help them to love and respect themselves by praising their skills and strengths.
Family involvement in healthy lifestyle change provides a child with emotional support, and benefits the health of each family member. Talk to your children and support them regardless of their size or shape. Discourage negative talk about body weight, ensure your child feels accepted and loved and focus on healthy habits for the entire family. If we get the healthy lifestyle habits right, we will get the weight that’s right for everyone in your family. Learn about the easy to remember 5-2-1-0+ rule below.
There is a simple, easy to remember framework that refers to the key elements of a healthy lifestyle: 5-2-1-0+
The number 5 refers to healthy eating and reminds us to aim to eat 5 or more vegetables and fruit every day.
The number 2 refers to recreational screen time. Ideally, we should be aiming for less than 2 hours of recreational screen time each day.
The number 1 refers to physical activity. Children and youth should aim to play actively for at least 1 hour per day.
The number 0 refers to zero sugary drinks. Aim for zero sugary drinks and keep hydrated with plain tap water.
The last + sign in the 5-2-1-0+ framework refers to sleep time. Experts say children aged 5-13 need 9-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep. The last + sign also refers to Positive Mental Health — a further element of a healthy lifestyle.
When parents practice a healthy lifestyle, their children are more likely to develop healthy habits too. Visit the other areas of the Healthy Living section of this website for guidance childhood healthy living.