Experts have revealed parents should avoid directly talking about weight gain but ‘ban eating in front of the TV’ to help obese children who have gained weight during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A recent study published in the journal Obesity found that compared with this time last year, children ate one extra meal and added nearly five hours of screen time per day, while cutting physical activity by more than two hours a week, as well as an increased intake of crisps, red meat and sugary drinks.
But if your child has put on a significant amount of weight during lockdown or had pre-existing struggles that have become worse, how do you tackle it?
Parenting experts including psychologist Emma Kenny and headteacher Leon Hady told FEMAIL the process was a delicate balance of ‘setting an example’ for children, while reinforcing positive behaviour.
Experts have revealed parents should ‘avoid talking about weight gain’ and ‘ban eating in front of the TV’ to help obese children who have gained weight during the Covid-19 pandemic
DON’T: Talk to children about their weight gain
Emma said parents should avoid using critical or shameful comments to try to prompt weight loss in children.
She explained: ‘I will admit that other professionals may disagree with me and I’ll take the hit, but honestly, in my entire career I haven’t met one child who found being told they were fat, overweight, or obese helpful.
‘In fact I would go as far as to say that these types of comments did immense harm.
‘Take the focus off their weight and instead build their self-confidence by offering them lots of positives about what makes them the awesome young person that they are.
‘Get them to set some positive goals such as taking part in online PE classes and reward them when they achieve them.’
Rather than shaming a child into losing weight, the psychologist suggested parents use positive language to encourage their child.
Emma revealed: ‘As your kids start to lose weight make sure you use lots of body positive terms such as ‘you look so bright and healthy’ and ‘I can really tell you are taking care of your health’ as these deemphasize the losing weight element, and shift focus to the gaining health element.
‘Once your child sees that you are noticing and amplifying these gains you will help sustain their efforts.’
DO: Discuss shifts in behaviour and ‘comfort eating’
Emma explained: ‘Some children comfort eat, and this can be because they are struggling with their mood, with bullying, with problems at school, or because they have felt traumatised by the past 12 months.
‘As a parent it can help to express that you have ‘noticed’ a shift in their behaviour and that you are on their team and want them to know you are fully on their side.
‘Try to get them to open up about their fears and feelings so that they have a different tool kit when it comes to managing their more problematic feelings.’
DON’T: Fill up the snack cupboard
Emma explained parents should ditch sweets and unhealthy snacks from the weekly shopping list, explaining: ‘It is pretty boring for kids right now, and with so much screen time becoming a big part of their day, it can be easy to let your control on their snacking slide.
WHAT IS OBESITY?
Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI of 30 or over.
A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.
Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age.
For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means that 40 per cent of three-month-olds weigh the same or less than that baby.
Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese.
The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7 billion budget, every year.
This is due to obesity increasing a person’s risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.
‘Chocolate and sweets taste good, and when there isn’t a great deal to look forward to your kids may use these as a reward for simply getting through a mundane day.’
Emma continued: ‘Try to avoid buying sugary snacks at all in the week, if the food isn’t there then it cannot be eaten.
‘Make sure there is fruit, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes and crudities and get them used to reaching for a bowl of these, or a couple of brazil nuts, or walnuts when they fancy a snack.’
Meanwhile Leon, who has developed online courses to support parents during the crisis, said: ‘I know this sounds very difficult but the woe that stems from sugar is becoming more and more apparent, lockdown boredom and a quick sugar fix do not go well together.
‘Whether it’s cereal, an innocent-looking snack bar or hidden sugars in processed foods.
‘Sugar is addictive, an empty non-beneficial food source, and does not satiate. The only reason it’s in your food is it’s cheap and addictive.’
DO: Buy smaller plates to trick children over meal sizes
The psychologist revealed: ‘Take the pressure off the plate by managing portion size for your kids.
‘We eat a third more than we did in the 70’s and yet live a less active lifestyles, so it is clear we all need a push where portion control is concerned.
‘Whether you invest in some smaller plates to psychologically trick your kids into eating less, or you just communicate that you are making a concerted effort to become healthier, take this positive action and you will see the pounds drop off.’
DON’T: Eat meals in front of the TV or computer
Emma explained: ‘Research shows that if you turn off all technology and sit together at a table whilst you eat your meal, you are likely to eat less and feel more satisfied.
‘Watching TV zones you out, and you want your kids to zone in to the eating process.
‘Encourage them to savour every bite, to think about the textures and tastes as they eat their meals, and use this as a family bonding exercise too.’
Leon agreed, adding that ‘spending 11 hours a day on various screens’ would ‘surely have an impact on body image.’
He said: ‘Coming away to give time to reset, recalibrate and re-affirm the real’ is important too.’
DO: Encourage children to gain confidence by working out
Meanwhile Emma said that older children could be encouraged to undertake exercise on their own, helping to build up confidence and independence.
She explained: ‘Where older kids are concerned, try to encourage them to take a walk, or run alone, because this builds independence and helps forge resilience which means they build self-esteem, and children with high self-esteem tend to make healthier choices where their lifestyles are concerned.’
The psychologist also revealed parents could make exercise fun for younger children by making it into a game or contest.
She said: ‘If you have younger kids make sure you take an hours walk each day, and make this fun by having mini races throughout.
‘Getting white light on your skin helps regulate hormones that are important for reducing stress and for improving sleep, and kids who sleep well eat less.’
Psychologist Emma said older children could gain confidence if encouraged to plan their own exercise routine
DON’T: Be afraid to incorporate food into your homeschooling
Psychologist Emma suggested getting children ‘involved’ in creating meal plans and the cooking process.
She explained: ‘The truth is that the closer you get them to food, the more they will understand it. Sit down and agree a weekly menu that works for you all and encourage them to get excited about the from prep to plate experience.
‘Also, ask them to research healthy, budget meals where they can use their maths skills along with their menu planning activity.
‘Whilst you will need to supervise them whilst they are cooking, it really will make a big difference to their enjoyment where eating is concerned.’
Meanwhile for younger children, she suggested ‘scheduling a daily home school session where you, and your kids learn about eating the colours of the rainbow’.
She said: ‘Education really counts where food is concerned as we have become a nation obsessed with calorie counting, instead of quality eating.
‘Help your children understand how nature provides this incredible colourful nutrition so that they, and you understand how vital it is to eat a healthy, and nutritious diet.’
DO: Contact a GP if your concerns are growing
Emma said: ‘Whilst it is very rare for kids to have issues that lead to serious weight gain even when they are seemingly eating a healthy and balanced diet, this occasionally does happen.
‘If you suspect that there is more to your child’s growing size then speak to your GP about this.
‘I would strongly recommend you discussing this in private in the first instance and then asking your GP who will likely run tests to avoid bringing up the weight concern.
‘This can be dealt with once you know if you are dealing with a medical, or an activity, or diet-based concern.’
Coronavirus lockdowns are worsening child obesity due to kids spending an extra FIVE HOURS per day in front of a screen and eating more crisps, red meat and sugary drinks, study finds
US researchers found obese kids in Italy ate more junk food and watched more TV at the expense of physical activity during the Covid-19 social distancing measures.
Compared with this time last year, children ate one extra meal and added nearly five hours of screen time per day, while cutting physical activity by more than two hours a week.
Lockdown also disrupted sleep patterns among children with obesity, allowing them to sleep for an extra half-hour on average, the researchers report.
Obese children who are usually engaged in weight control programmes at school are having their schedules disrupted, which could affect them in adulthood.
However, obese children are eating more fruit and around the same amount of vegetables compared with pre-lockdown, the study suggests.
‘The tragic Covid-19 pandemic has collateral effects extending beyond direct viral infection,’ said Professor Myles Faith, a childhood obesity expert at University of Buffalo and co-author on the study, published in the journal Obesity.
‘Children and teens struggling with obesity are placed in an unfortunate position of isolation that appears to create an unfavourable environment for maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviours.
‘Recognising these adverse collateral effects of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown is critical in avoiding the depreciation of hard-fought weight control efforts among youths afflicted with excess weight.’