Part I | Part II |
In Part I we began our look at the epidemic of childhood obesity. 23% of
children are overweight, with 6% being obese, and this number is rapidly on
We looked at some of the serious health problems related to obesity, and now
we want to see if we can make a difference.
Why are children getting fatter?
We can break this down into a very simple energy equation: there are more
calories going in than are being burnt in metabolism and exercise, resulting
in an overall accumulation of energy stores (fat). The way to change this is
to reduce the amount of energy going in, and to increase how much energy is
Our diet is changing, and over recent decades we have seen a steady increase
in the amount of highly processed ‘energy-dense’ foods. Products
high in energy (either fats or sugars and carbohydrates) often taste great,
but don’t necessarily fill you up. The biggest culprit in this can be
not what we eat but what we drink: soft drinks, ‘energy drinks’
and even fruit juices are all very high in energy and are what we call
‘empty calories’, as they don’t actually leave you feeling
To avoid gaining weight we need to limit how much highly-processed energy food
we eat, and to cut back on empty calories. If you want to check how much
energy is in what you eat and drink, check the label: the recommended energy
level is that they contain not more than 525kj per 100g. These foods allow us
to feel full without taking on so many calories.
We may not have noticed the gradual change, but our portion sizes tend to be
much larger now than in previous generations. Reducing portion size will
obviously reduce the energy going in, and should help prevent weight gain.
Our body’s metabolism consumes a certain amount of energy in just
keeping us alive, but we can greatly increase how much energy we burn through
exercise. Common sense prevails: running burns more than walking, walking more
than standing still, and even just standing still burns more energy than
sitting! The more we sit, the less energy we burn, and the fatter we become.
There is now very strong evidence linking obesity to the average number of
hours of television watched by a child each day, and whilst it takes more than
turning off the TV to burn a lot of energy, it can be a pretty good start!
If you are worried that your child is overweight, you can take responsibility
for solving this problem. Reducing high-energy food and drink, decreasing
portion sizes, and encouraging physical activity should be enough to correct
the balance between the energy going in and the energy being consumed. Make
the changes now, and you can make a difference for life.