Do you have an obese child?

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By Sabrina Almeida

The first step towards helping your child is acknowledging that they are overweight. However, this is the hardest part for most parents. The main reasons—we just don’t see “our” kids that way and accepting we might be responsible for the unhealthy weight in some way. It’s also time to stop thinking the chubby kids are cute!

The truth is we are all uncomfortable around the word “obese”. Even doctors refrain from using the term… to spare their patients’ feelings, perhaps. “Unhealthy weight” is a more acceptable way of saying it and that is part of the problem. Telling it like it is might result in some positive action. Healthcare providers don’t soften a cancer diagnosis. So why tone it down for obesity which also has life-threatening consequences?

I recall asking my pediatrician about my son’s weight during one of his annual checkups almost 13 years ago. On my insistence, he sheepishly revealed that he was a “bit overweight”. I’m not sure whether he was trying to spare my son’s feelings or mine. I was disappointed and felt he should have addressed the problem with some advice on how to help him lose the extra pounds instead.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the number of obese children and adolescents worldwide has jumped tenfold in the past 40 years. The increase can be seen more in lower and middle countries, particularly in Asia. I’m not surprised because most of the South Asian kids I know are overweight.

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We all know the crux of the problem—salt and sugar-filled foods and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. But it’s a hard battle to win. I’ve always championed healthy eating habits. Sweetened cereals, sodas and fast food were never encouraged in my home, and fruit was always the first choice for snack. Yet, I now question whether it was me or someone else that raised my kids. The lure of junk food is almost too much for them to resist. We often joke about how they might have got switched in their teens.

Healthy meals are expensive, they point out. It’s true! Student budgets are more tolerant of the McDonalds value menu which has some of the worst offenders– Sausage McMuffin, Junior Chicken and Bacon McDouble to name a few. While most of these can be purchased for a little over $2, a salad is double the cost.

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Every country, including India, has calorie-laden foods as part of its daily fare, but the globalization of Western fast food chains has encouraged the obesity epidemic in what were considered less-privileged nations.

Many Gen Xers of Indian origin acknowledge that having fewer high-calorie choices growing up might have saved us from weight gain earlier on. Chips and pastries were only purchased for celebrations and not an easily-accessible, daily snack.

The WHO wants tougher restrictions on the marketing of junk food. With the threat of obese children outnumbering underweight ones in next five years if current trends continue—we need to step up the war on salt and sugar-filled foods.

Electronics and video games add to the unhealthy lifestyle. While my boys like to make Canadian weather the excuse for being couch potatoes, kids in India are also glued to their electronic devices. It’s an unhealthy trend. Something is definitely wrong when all you can hear in a room full of kids is silence.

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They’re texting even when watching TV. What’s more one screen is not enough. They’re flitting from the TV and their computers to their smartphones. Even worse is when adults imitate this lifestyle.

How do we stop this? By not encouraging sugary treats and salt-filled foods in our homes. Reward your kids with healthy choices. Start by giving out pencils and stickers instead of candy and chip packets this Halloween.

Yes, it’s a huge challenge that is likely to make you the witch at home and in the neighbourhood. Your kids might also be less popular at recess time.

Resist the urge to purchase fast food when you need to grab a quick meal on the way to hockey or gymnastics or give them a treat on the weekend. Diet options will not make it better. Keep sugary foods and drinks to a minimum, like on birthdays and a few special occasions.

Above all, set a good example. Children are more likely to mimic what they see rather than follow what you say. Which means eat healthy and keeping moving!

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