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Obesity is one of the biggest health crises of modern times, particularly affecting children. We are living in a world of ever-increasing amounts of fast food, where sedentary lifestyles have become more and more common: studying, working and being in front of computers and tv.

It’s only natural for parents to worry about their child piling on the pounds

Childhood obesity can lead to a lifetime of painful complications – so how can you keep your child healthy? Here are 4 tips to stop childhood obesity in its tracks! It is important to establish healthy habits so it becomes the norm.

1. Eat healthy meals – Establish healthy eating habits

Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, when it comes to children’s nutrition, there’s a world of misinformation out there. Fruit juice, often painted as a healthy option, can contain as much sugar as cola. Seemingly nutritious pasta sauces can be packed with sugar and salt. You might think that you’re doing the best thing for your child but hidden calories can undermine your good intentions. Check the nutritional labels if in doubt.

It’s far better to focus on unprocessed fruit and veg. If you have a fussy eater, try different types of vegetables. A salad of brightly coloured vegetables of different colours is more appealing than a portion of steamed broccoli. Outside of meal times, encourage healthy snacks too. Celery or carrot sticks with hummus can be very child-friendly, and a piece of fruit never goes amiss.

Children enjoy the chance to make decisions, so build this into your healthy eating plan. If you ask them what they want for dinner, you may have to deal with an answer of “chocolate” or “cake”. So rather than giving them a completely open decision, offer choices between two healthy options: “Would you prefer peas or broccoli with your fish?” Your child is more likely to eat well if they feel like it was their choice and if it’s something they prefer. Chocolate and puddings need to be seen as a treat, and fruit should be seen as a norm after meals.

2. Control portion sizes

Even if your meals are nutritionally balanced, overfeeding your child can still cause problems. Don’t force your child to clean their plate – it encourages them to eat beyond their body’s natural hunger mechanism.

But how do you balance this with the need to ensure that your kid is eating their vegetables? A good strategy is to set a rule: they must try two bites of everything on their plate. Over time, this will help them develop a taste for veggies. You might also want to make sure that if they turn their nose up at carrots, they won’t be given a chocolate pudding twenty minutes later.

3. Take up a sport

Getting your child interested in sports classes is one of the best things you can do. Your child may be resistant to the idea at first, particularly if they’ve become used to a sedentary lifestyle, but persistence pays off. Once they’ve started to make friends in sports lessons, they won’t want to give up. Look out for the perfect activity to suit your child. An unfit child might feel deeply uncomfortable with competitive sports and will benefit more from cooperative activities. These will also help your child develop confidence with being physically active, and become less embarrassed about running or throwing in front of their peers.

It’s never too late, or too early, to get your child active. Regular physical exercise assists in weight control: it burns calories and fat, as well as lowers stress.  It strengthens heart muscles, and enhances the muscles’ ability to obtain oxygen from circulating blood.  What’s more, sports can help them feel more self-confident and improve their self-esteem. Build activity into your child’s routine now and it should become a lifelong habit. Check out our blog post highlighting how to pick the right sport for your child.

4. Set a good example

Children hate hypocrites! If you’re forcing them to snack on broccoli while you wolf down a chocolate bar, or you claim that Coke is a special grown-up’s treat, you will build resentment. Children learn from their parents and imitate habits. This is role modelling. If you’re committed to your child’s health, you should be committed to your own, too. Eat the same foods together, and don’t cheat! If you’re trying out a new vegetable, don’t act like you expect your child to dislike it as that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Even if we give parents all the information they need and we improve school meals and build brand new supermarkets on every corner, none of that matters if when families step into a restaurant, they can't make a healthy choice.

— Michelle Obama - American lawyer and writer

Look for fun, family-friendly opportunities to build a healthy lifestyle together. Take long walks together at the weekends. It can be helpful if you don’t tell your child explicitly that you’re doing this to be healthy, or to make a lifestyle change. Instead, focus on fun: we’re going to walk to the library and count all the dogs we see along the way, or we’re going to have a challenge and eat foods from six different countries this week.

If you join in and make it fun, your child should enjoy it, too.