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Food habits play a vital role in helping an individual to maintain a healthy weight, as well as a functioning immune system, healthy skin and a happy mind.
Instilling habits in children from a young age will play a significant role in ensuring they preserve their health as they enter adult life.
Unfortunately, the current situation in the UK isn’t good, with more than one in four children aged four to five years, and four in 10 aged 10-11 years, being overweight or obese, according to the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP). Indeed, the NCMP consistently indicates that the prevalence of obesity in children doubles between reception and year six.
“We’re seeing worrying levels of childhood obesity,” says Bridget Benelam, nutrition communications manager at the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF). Speaking on the Training Matters Category Insight podcast in April, Bridget added: “We know that obesity in childhood can lead to obesity in adulthood, so this is a real concern when we’re looking at people’s health throughout their lives.”
Of course, a lot of this responsibility is placed in the hands of parents, but pharmacy teams can be on hand to offer information on what makes a healthy diet and some top tips on how to keep a child engaged with eating well.
So, what is need to make a nutritious meal?
Looking at the whole plate
Lend a helping hand
As well as outlining key dietary components and their importance, pharmacy teams can offer a range of advice
to help parent’s keep their child eating healthily. One of the best ways to do this is to ensure they are having child-size portions.
According to the NHS, parents should try to start meals with smaller servings and wait for their children to ask for more food if they’re still hungry. The organisation also recommends that parents not use adult-size plates for young children as it encourages them to eat oversized portions. Children should be offered three meals per day with two small snacks in between, according to the BDA. It should be recommended that parents offer different foods each mealtime as eating a variety of foods will ensure that children are able to obtain a range of different nutrients.
It may also help to encourage children to eat slowly and have set mealtimes. Advise parents to discourage sugary or high-fat foods such as sweets, biscuits and fizzy drinks, as these processed foods tend be high in calories and low in nutrients. Children should instead obtain the large majority of their calories from healthier foods like fruit and starchy foods like bread and potatoes.
It’s also important to highlight to parents that they set a good precedence to their children who learn by example. Advise them that any changes they make to their child’s diet are much more likely to be accepted if they involve the whole family.
For more information on this, teams can signpost parents to the NHS Better Health site.
Of course, diet is not the only thing that can help the obesity crisis facing UK children. Getting active can make a real difference.
It is recommended that all children spend at least 60 minutes doing physical activity every day. This does not have to be all at once, in fact the NHS recommends that short 10-minute bursts of activity during the day can be just as impactful as a full hour in one go. Exercise can range from playing in a park for younger children, to walking to school or swimming for older children.
As with diet, children often follow an example, so pharmacy teams could recommend that parents try to reserve time as a family to take part in exercise. “Keep trying different ideas until something clicks,” says Eric Small, specialist in paediatric and adolescent sports medicine. “It’s important to get non-athletic kids motivated and moving so they can enjoy a lifelong habit of physical activity.”