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The right weight for kids

Do you also ask yourself – like many parents, incidentally – whether your child’s weight is normal? Is your child a bad eater or a particularly lively child who appears very thin? Or are they an extremely good eater? The following information should offer background knowledge about childhood weight and will illustrate means of positively influencing your child’s weight.

Childhood BMI – the benchmark

The individual Body Mass Index (BMI) identifies whether a person’s weight is normal or not. However BMI is assessed differently for children than for adults because a child’s age and sex must also be taken into consideration. The relationship between body size and weight as well as a child’s age and sex is calculated using a percentile curve. Normal weight for children lies between the 10th and 90th percentile. A child is overweight if their BMI is over the 90th percentile, severely overweight (obese) with a BMI that is over the 97th percentile and underweight if their BMI is under the 10th percentile. The following illustrations show percentile curves for girls and boys:

Your paediatrician or GP can determine whether your child’s weight is normal or alternatively under the normal weight. Furthermore, you can find a practical BMI calculator for children on the internet. When choosing a calculator, note that an adult BMI calculator is not suitable for children.

Overweight children – an increasing problem

The KIGGS study carried out by the Robert Koch Institute for Child and Youth Health in Germany highlights the issue of weight gain in particular. It showed that 15 percent of 3 to 17 year olds are overweight. Six percent of them have a BMI over the 97th percentile and are therefore categorised as severely overweight (obese). There is, therefore, a total of 1.8 million overweight children and young people living in Germany – 800,000 of them are obese.

Unfortunately, a large number of overweight children will also become overweight adults. Being overweight is also closely linked to the development of chronic illnesses and a decreased quality of life. There are numerous scientific studies in this area.

Diet and exercise determines the weight category

If a child is overweight, it is mostly due to the fact that they consume more energy than they need. Their weight therefore increases more and more. It is known that just 200 calories (kcal) over the average energy consumption per day for adults can be enough to increase weight by two to three kilograms within a year.

In addition to very calorie-rich meals, in many cases excess weight is also linked to the trend of sitting in front of a gaming console, TV or computer during leisure time. These stationary pastimes, as discussed, not only rob children of time for running about and sport, but also invite them to eat more in passing. The snacks they eat at these times are often very calorific Fatty snacks and sugary drinks are often among the favourite foods for overweight children.

How to keep your child’s diet in balance

A balanced family meal is generally based on variety, as well as the right choice of foods according to the The South African Food based dietry Guidelines. Exercise also plays a large role in the healthy development of children. That applies to all children – not only to those who tend to be overweight.

Chubby children should go for filling but low-fat and low-calorie dishes such as vegetables, potatoes, low-fat dairy products, lean meat and poultry as well as wholegrain foods. They should only eat calorie-rich foods such as chips, other fried foods, sweets or soft drinks every now and again. These provide an extra portion of calories but very few nutrients. Fruit can be a good alternative to sweets because it tastes sweet but has a higher concentration of nutrients. However it contains significantly fewer calories than sweet snacks. Two portions of fruit per day are ideal, so an apple and banana, for example, or two small handfuls of cherries or berries and a pear. Plant oils such as rapeseed oil or soya oil provide useful essential fatty acids and vitamin E. High-quality plant oils should therefore also form part of a diet for plump children. However bear in mind: a lot doesn’t help a lot. Always use oil and other cooking fats in moderation.

If your child has a tendency towards being overweight, you should make sure that they do not eat too much between meals. It is best to have two small snacks per day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Alternatively if your child is very slim or underweight, offer them more small snacks between meals. For the main meal, try appetite-stimulating and flavoursome meals such as tasty casseroles. In addition, high-energy and high-nutrient snacks are good for putting on weight. Desserts such as pudding, nuts, fruit juice and milkshakes also count. In this case do not revert to fast food or other very sugary snacks – rather offer your child an extra portion of bread, muesli or fruit. In general, snacks should be widely varied so that your child is provided with all the important nutrients.

Aside from that you can also try the following

In addition to the diet options described, it is important that you do not close your eyes to the problem if your child is overweight or underweight. If you are worried, speak to your GP or paediatrician so that they can regularly check your child’s weight. As parents you should also be aware of your role as a role model and provide a good example through your dietary habits and exercise. You can most positively influence your child through setting a good example of a healthy lifestyle. It is never too late to start, particularly if your child is overweight.

Where exercise is concerned, help your child to overcome their shyness. Contrary to popular opinion overweight children are not lazy and idle. A recent long-term study has shown that it is more often the case that overweight people no longer have fun exercising because their weight holds them back. Ultimately it is a vicious circle – the wrong diet combined with unsuitable leisure activities leads to being overweight. Your child can only break this vicious circle with your help. Make sure, however, that you do not demand too much of your children. Put age-appropriate incentives in place and you will see your child have fun and enjoy your support and the activities you do together.