A chubby and plump child may look adorable and cute, with some saying it’s “auspicious” or “well-fed” in our Asian society. However, round-sized kids should not be regarded as “normal” for health considerations.
It can be hard to tell if a child is overweight as they grow at different rates. One’s body mass index (BMI) can be calculated by measuring weight relative to height, to indicate if we are underweight, normal, overweight or obese.
For children, BMI-for-age is determined by using BMI charts that are age- and gender-specific to get a more accurate evaluation, by comparing their BMI with the general child population of their age and gender.
If your child is overweight, take the necessary steps to deal with the problem. Overweight and obesity are reversible, so take action now.
What should I do?
Cultivate a healthy lifestyle in your child and improve eating habits together as a family.
• Be a good role model
It starts with you, the parents. Children learn from observing people around them. Be more conscious about what you eat and do, and consider how it can influence your child. You are the one who decides what to buy and eat in your household, and your child will be affected by this.
• Get the whole family involved
Have healthy meals and eat together instead of preparing a special dish only for your overweight child. They are more likely to accept changes that are gradual and involve the whole family as his support. Everyone will benefit and your child won’t feel singled out. Also, no TV and gadget distractions during mealtimes to allow everyone to eat slowly, mindfully, and at regular hours.
• Have a balanced, moderate and varied diet based on the Malaysian Food Pyramid
A healthy diet has a good balance of each food group, served in moderate quantities, and with a different variety of food, to supply all the nutrients for the whole family. Use the Malaysian Healthy Plate concept with ½ plate of fruits and veggies, a ¼ plate of grain products, preferably whole grains, and a ¼ plate of fish, meat or poultry. Give them suitable portions by using a smaller plate. Also include two glasses of milk daily.
Still hungry? Let them drink more plain water (for good hydration) and finish their vegetables and fruits (to meet five servings a day), instead of rice/noodles to prevent overeating.
• Discuss healthy eating habits
Talk to your child about the importance of their health, and how healthy habits like eating vegetables, exercising and sleeping early, can make them strong and prevent illness. Use simple terms that they can understand.
• Have home-cooked meals more frequently
This way, your child’s meals will only contain fresh and healthy ingredients cooked with healthier methods like steaming. Thus, you can reduce fast food consumption and unhealthy snacks like chips or deep-fried food.
• Healthy eating out
When going out, pack healthy snacks like fresh fruits to nibble on. Choose to dine at a healthier restaurant instead of a fast food joint. Your child will learn that eating out should also be as healthy as eating at home.
• Healthy snacks everywhere
Have bite-sized fruits and veggies like apples, bananas, cherry tomatoes or baby carrots available where they are easy to see and reach. Keep high-calorie food and drinks out of sight.
• No food bribes orpunishment
Don’t offer your child dessert for cleaning up their room or deny them dinner for misbehaving. This can create an unhealthy relationship with food.
• Never skip breakfast
A healthy breakfast provides sufficient energy to kick-start the day after nine to 11 hours of “fasting” (sleeping time) from your dinner, hence why it is called “break-fast”. Skipping breakfast can also lead to overeating later in the day.
• Ensure good sleeping habits
Studies show a link between lack of sleep and excess weight. Insufficient sleep also affects mood and behaviour, but excessive sleep is also bad. Know the proper hours of sleep for your child’s age.
• Get moving!
Your child needs at least a total of 40-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily (you can achieve this by doing several short sessions that add up to one hour). Younger children can play ball games or chasing games, while older children can take up activities like cycling or badminton. Outdoor activity is also a good time for family bonding.
In addition, limit your child’s screen time and sedentary activity. Do not let them spend more than two hours on TV, video games, computer or smartphones, which makes them sit and lie around too much.
If your efforts to follow all these tips are not showing results, consult your child’s paediatrician for other options. They may recommend a diet and exercise plan, or refer you to a dietitian or weight management programme suitable for your child.