Weighing Up in 2015

Weighing Up in 2015

Globally, about 42 million children under the age of five, according the World Health Organisation (WHO) are overweight or obese. That’s just 2 million short of DOUBLE Australia’s current population.

Obesity in children and adolescents is a major concern. Not only does it prevail short-term health and social problems, but it also increases their risk of long-term health burdens like type 2 diabetes and heart diseases that may arise during childhood and continue with them into adulthood.

It is a condition were excess body fat accumulates when the energy intake from food and drink is greater than the energy expended through physical activity over an extended period of time.

These rates are commonly measured using the body mass index (BMI) weight-to-height ratio, which has been around since the 1840s. While for adults the number on the scale and the BMI ratio is no longer the best indicator of health as it doesn’t measure body fat percentage, it is still the only way we can and are measuring our kids’.

For 10 year-olds overweight is defined as a BMI of 19.84 or more for boys and 19.86 for girls, with obesity defined as a BMI of 24.00 or more for boys and 24.11 or more for girls.

The epidemic has been on an upward trajectory since the 1970s, when poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle became common place due to the availability of fast food.

Changes to family structure and dynamics began to take place, such as women beginning to work more and work hours in general began to increase. As a result, parents were busier and began spending less time with their kids. Coming home late meant parents couldn’t prepare homemade meals, so fast food did the trick. Time-poor parents replaced expensive fruit, veggies and nutrient dense meals for quick snacks and pre-prepared meals.

From 1985 to 1995, the prevalence of overweight and obese children among 5–17 year-olds tripled to 20% in boys and 21.5% in girls, which mean’t in 1995 1 in 5 children were considered overweight or obese.

According to the stats, unfortunately signs are emerging suggesting obesity is developing at younger ages as the years go by.

Between 1995-2008, Childhood obesity rates climbed even higher, indicating that 1 in 4 children between the ages of 5-17 years-old are overweight or obese.

Luckily since this survey conducted by Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity, these figures have plateaued and in 2015 remain stable. However, this figure is still alarming and changes need to be made.

So, what can we do?

We need to educate kids and parents about:
– Portion sizes
– Meal planning
– ‘Always’ vs ‘sometimes’ foods
– A balanced diet
– What is actually in junk and fast foods and what it does to our bodies?
– How do healthy foods benefit our bodies and brains?
– How to cook healthy food from scratch
– The importance of eating meals as a family

Our current food system is doing our kids a disservice. We need to be strong as individuals, as families, as communities and as a nation to demand the transparency we want to see in our food system.

Fresh fruit and veg need to be more accessible and sold for cheaper than processed foods, we need to tax sugar, junk food companies and fast food stores and ban any unhealthy food advertising towards kids.

Schools need to hop on board and create community gardens, implement fun compulsory cooking classes and sell only healthy foods over the canteen counter.

A lot of children get their habits from home, which is why this is the MOST important place to start making positive changes. We should be creating a supportive environment at home for our kids, free of ‘sometimes’ unhealthy foods and packed full of colourful, healthy and fresh produce. Slice, dice, mix and bake these nutrient dense foods and create beautiful home cooked meals that can be shared by the whole family around the dining table.

This is what will pull those figures down, this is what we need to be doing so our kids can be set up for life with the right skills and the right habits for a healthy future.

A QUESTION FOR YOU: Where do you see our obesity rates and food system in 2025? I want to hear from you. COMMENT your thoughts below.

x Leah


8 Ways Parents Can Help Fight Childhood Obesity

8 Ways Parents Can Help Fight Childhood Obesity

Parents hold great responsibility over what their kids eat, what activities they participate in and how much time they spend in front of screens. They are the authoritative voice in the house, most of the time with the last say.

While childhood obesity can arise from many avenues such as bullying, the media, hormone imbalances, genetics, unhealthy eating and a lack of exercises, luckily most of these are reversible and can be combated through healthy lifestyle changes.

As parents, you can ensure your child engages with regular physical activity as well as healthy eating habits in and outside the home. If you recognise your child lacks energy, indulges in ‘sometimes’ foods most of the time, barely takes their eyes off screens and loathes at the thought of having to go outside, then these 8 tips are for you.

1. Know what food your kids are putting in their mouths. Make fresh and healthy homemade meals from scratch for them for dinner, pack them healthy lunches for school such as a salad sandwich, fruit and nut bar instead of giving them money to buy lunch at school. Stock your fridge and pantry with only healthy foods and don’t keep processed foods in the home at all, ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’

2. Encourage your kids to participate in sports. Lead by example and take them for walks with you on the weekend, go cycling around a park together, go swimming in summer or install a basketball hoop in your backyard.

3. Create a supportive family home environment. Tell aunties, uncles, grandparents, cousins and friends that you intend to start making healthier lifestyle changes for your child. No doubt they will hop on board. However, the grandparents might need some extra convincing that lollies and chips are not ‘treats’ and are in fact doing more harm to their grandson or granddaughter then they think.

4. Ensure they get at least 10 hours sleep. Not enough sleep is also a big factor contributing to your child’s risk of being overweight or obese. Their little bodies are still growing and need as much sleep as possible to function at their optimum. Not enough sleep combined with an unhealthy lifestyle is detrimental to your child’s health.

5. That being said, limit screen time. This includes TV, phones, computers, iPads, radios. Screens can interfere with your child’s sleeping patterns, impeding their brains from ‘switching off’ at night. Instead get them to read a book. Promote mindful eating and ban screens during mealtimes. This way your kids will learn to listen to their hunger cues better. Eating in front of the TV also applies, studies have shown that kids who eat while watching TV are more likely to overeat then those who are at the dining table.

6. Eat as a family together around the dining table during mealtimes. Studies have shown that kids who eat at home at least 5 nights a week performed better academically and were less likely to become overweight or obese or turn to alcohol or drugs later in life than their peers who ate out frequently. Eating as a family around a shared table also encourages communication and debate, enriching your child’s repertoire of skills and knowledge, all while encouraging slower eating too.

7. Focus on food rather than body size. If your child is overweight, they most likely know this. Be as supportive as you can and don’t tease or shame them about their size. Rather, focus on talking about food. Talk about the benefits of healthy foods like fruit and veggies. Ask them how does junk food make them feel? Encourage them to help you out in the kitchen cooking healthy meals with you and get them asking questions about veggies, how to prepare and cook them using different techniques. For more information on this, check out one of my previous posts.

8. Avoid using sugary sweets as rewards. While you may think you are being a kind parents giving them treats, you are in fact doing them a disservice. Why don’t you bake a healthy treat together? Like this healthy chocolate avocado mousse or these healthy cacao, coconut and date bliss balls. They still tick the sweet treat box, contain all natural and healthy ingredients while sparing your child all that unhealthy processed sugar and those impossible to pronounce ingredients. However, the biggest reward you could give your child is a big loving cuddle and kiss, this will last a lifetime in their eyes, as opposed to a chocolate bar that would last a only a few minutes in their mouths.

Leah x

Parents blind to overweight children.

Parents blind to overweight children.

More than 50% of parents of overweight or obese children in Australia believe their child is of normal weight and continue to think so as their kids pile on more kilos, according to researches from the University of Melbourne. These parents have what is called ‘Goldilocks syndrome,’ a term given to those who are in denial about their overweight children.

Parents’ weight perceptions are extremely important for preventing childhood obesity, however if parents are assuming their kids’ weight is just right when in fact it is well above average, we could have a huge problem.

So what’s going on? Are parents confused about what a healthy weight looks like or are they simply in denial? There are certainly a combination of contributing factors:

Average weight has changed. 

In the 60s, only 5% of Aussie kids were overweight or obese, now that figure has climbed to 25%. We are all heavier, and as a result our visual perception of what we think average weight is has shifted too. Interesting to note, the study found parents and kids perceived themselves to be thinner, more active and healthier than they really were. Of course parents don’t want to see their children in a bad light nor be blamed for their child’s weight, so it is understandable that they may feel a sense of guilt and hence can be in denial about the truth.

Overweight parents contribute to the problem.

According to Better Health, parents whom are overweight may be less concerned about their child being overweight, as they may see themselves and their kid as ‘normal’. It is not as easy to tell if a child is overweight as they tend to put on the kilos around their belly, which happens to be concealed most of the time. Overweight parents most likely live sedentary lifestyles and eat unhealthy foods. They act as bad role models for their kids, whom don’t know any better and which makes it very difficult for them to recognise they are living unhealthily, are overweight and increasing their risks of diabetes, heart diseases, cancers and other debilitating illnesses later in life.

Weight measures can be confusing. 

Using body mass index (BMI) to assess weigh results are more likely to label children as overweight than using a waist measure. Not only does the study suggest parents struggle to determine what a healthy weight is, but that a lot more research is needed to determine how best to define children’s weight status and importantly, how best to communicate this to parents and children. However, inconsistent weight measures aren’t the only factor contributing to childhood obesity.

Parents believe their kids will grow out of it. 

Unfortunately, research shows they most likely won’t grow out of it. If a kid is overweight, there is a strong chance they will become overweight as an adult. Parents should not be fooled. Why take a gamble on your child’s life?

Parents aren’t sure how to tackle the problem.

In one of my previous posts ‘To Tell or Not to Tell‘, I talk about the best way of approaching the topic of weight with your child. Avoiding the conversation and telling them out right they are chubby could possibly do more harm than good. Rather, speak to them about healthy foods, involve them in the cooking process, ask them questions to get them curious about fresh foods, how to prepare and cook them. Asking them questions about how junk food as opposed to fresh foods make them feel? Above all, parents need to be supportive, show unconditional love and provide positive reinforcement all the way.

By Leah

How to Get Fussy Kids Eating Better

How to Get Fussy Kids Eating Better

Whether you’re a top chef or regular home cook, everyone knows the toughest critics to impress are the ones standing no taller than our elbows. Feeding kids can be super tricky, but there are many ways to dodge the flying little trees of broccoli they throw your way.

Here are five tips to get fussy kids eating better.

  1. Provide a variety of foods.
    The more foods you expose your child to from a young age, the less they will develop fussy eating habits. If they love one food and you give it to them everyday, the more likely they are to refuse anything else that isn’t that food. Or it could go the other way, they could get sick of it and never want it again. Change their meals up with different ingredients to keep them excited about the food they eat. Swap broccoli for peas or carrots for sweet potato. Making a meal plan for the week is very useful and can save a lot of precious time.
  2. Change the texture.
    More so than flavour, texture plays a huge part in food appreciation. Whether it is crunchy, mushy, slimy or gritty, texture can dictate your kids choices of food. If your child doesn’t like boiled potatoes for example, instead mash them into mash potato, bake them into crispy wedges or grate them to make pan-fried fritters. Just because your child doesn’t like boiled potato, doesn’t mean they wont like crispy ones. There are so many ways to cook vegetables that change their texture completely, from steamed, baked, raw, mashed, boiled, stewed, pickled, shredded and more. Get creative.
  3. Use umami.
    Also known as the ‘fifth taste’ umami is the strongest flavour after salt, sweet, sour and bitter. It is what gives some foods that all rounded, satisfactory flavour. The best way to incorporate umami into your cooking is to use stock. Use chicken stock as the base to make a hearty and healing chicken soup or dashi stock to make a Japanese miso soup, or boil rice or vegetables in some beef stock. It adds a real depth of flavour loaded with nutrients extracted from animal bones, alternatively you can use vegetable stock too, which is also of course extremely high in micronutrients.
  4. Get them cooking with you. 
    It’s super rare your child will refuse to eat the food they took the time to make with you. Even if you give them small roles like washing the ingredients, stirring or mixing them in the pot or guiding them when cutting vegetables, a little involvement can get them interested in the process and can make them more adventurous eaters, tasting throughout the cooking process and trying new foods they wouldn’t have tried otherwise. See my older post ‘5 Reasons Why You Should Be Cooking With Your Kids’ for more on this.
  5. Lead by example.
    Kids look up to their parents and copy their actions, so your eating habits will directly affect your child’s. If you order takeaway often and barely cook fresh foods at home, it is very likely your child will grow up and adopt this lifestyle. Your food choices will determine whether your child reaches for a chocolate bar or apple, pack of chips or nut bar. It is important to keep in mind why we want out kids to eat better in the first place, to ensure they grow up to become healthy adults. We may lose some food battles but in the end it is worth the good food habits that come out of them .

    By Leah

Easy Ways to Improve Your Diet

Easy Ways to Improve Your Diet

Want to make a change but finding it really hard to suddenly swap all the bad food for good? Here are 10 ways for you to revamp your diet without changing your lifestyle too drastically.

  1. Swap apple juice for an apple.
    Don’t be fooled. Just because it says ‘fruit’ it doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you. in fact, fruit juices contain if not more, then just as much sugar than soft drinks. Coca Cola has 140 calories and 40 grams of sugar – That’s 10 teaspoons per serve! While a serve of apple juice actually has 165 calories and 39 grams of sugar, that’s 9.8 teaspoons per serve. While fruit juices have small amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, they lack fibre and are packed with sugar. The bottom line is, fruit juice do not replace a serve of fruit, they are nutritionally poor! Grab and apple, not only will it keep the doctor way, it’s way easier and less time consuming than getting out a class and pouring the juice in it.
  2. Eat chips from a bowl.
    Studies show your brain doesn’t register when to stop eating when you eat chips straight from the packet. You’re likely to binge more eating this way than if you had poured a finite amount into a bowl. When you see what you have in front of you, your brain registers what and how much you are eating and will alert you to stop when it has had enough. Better yet, why not scrap chips all together and make tasty oven baked kale chips instead!
  3. Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate.
    Dark chocolate actually contains half the sugar of milk chocolate. Researches found that a small amount of dark chocolate can aid arterial health, reducing chances of artery blocking. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has shown to boost the pleasure circuit in your brain. Opt for a 70% bitter-sweet dark chocolate, perhaps one square to treat yourself. Everything in moderation.
  4. Choose popcorn instead of chips.
    As long as it’s not popcorn from the cinemas, which contains a lot of butter and sugar, make your own popcorn at home instead. Experts say home-popped popcorn contains no sugar, 1g of fat and 90 calories per a 25g serving as opposed to more than 1000 calories for popcorn at the movies.
  5. Don’t eat with distractions.
    Eating in front of the TV or at your desk in front of the computer can cause you to eat 40% more than you would if you were focusing only on your food at the dinner table. Without realising it, you eat more as your brain is being distracted, focusing on the TV or computer and not the act of eating. Also, eating breakfast on the run is considered a distraction and can cause you to eat more too. When you focus on your eating you are more mindful and aware about what and how much you are eating and your brain will register when it is satisfied.
  6. Don’t gobble your food down.
    It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register it is full. The slower you eat, the better, you could save up to 70 calories by eating slower and for 30 mins. Try be the last on the table to finish your food. Slow and steady wins the race.
  7. Wake up earlier.
    Being an early bird can improve your health and help lower body fat. It helps to kick start your metabolism, working longer in a day and therefore burning more calories. Ensure you go to bed early and get enough sleep as bad sleeping patterns and sleep apnea can lead to weight gain. Adults need at least 7-9 hours sleep, kids 3-6 need 10-13 while 6-17 need 8-11 hours.
  8. Don’t skip breakfast.
    They weren’t lying when they said ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day.’ Eating breakfast minimises your chances of binging later in the day, as your hunger would have been satisfied until lunch time. Breakfast speeds up your metabolism and boosts energy levels in the morning. Kids who skip breakfast may have a deficiency in fibre, vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium and zinc. Those who eat breakfast are more successful at losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight.
  9. Swap white flour pasta for whole-grain varieties.
    Whole-grain pasta is significantly higher in fibre than refined, white flour pasta. White flour products are actually bleached to appear their white/yellowish colour, this means they are high in ingredients that are hard to pronounce and have been highly processed. They also contain less than half the amount of vitamin B and minerals as whole grains. Despite it’s darker colour, whole-grain pasta tastes the same but contains fewer calories, 25% more protein and three times more fibre than traditional white pasta.10. Instead of bread, reach for a wrap.
    Even better, swap that slice of bread for a whole-grain wrap. A wrap has about 100 calories while one slice of bread has 250 calories! Wraps are a significantly healthier choice. If you are out for lunch, most cafes sell wraps. Opt for a salad or veggie wrap over a calorie dense sandwich.

    By Leah

Effects of ‘Food Pressure’ on Kids

Effects of ‘Food Pressure’ on Kids

Parents who put pressure on their kids to eat or who restrict their food intake can cause their kids to unhealthily gain weight.

The study published in the Journal of Paediatric Psychology found parents of overweight kids are more likely to restrict their child’s eating while parents with kids of normal weight are more likely to put pressure on them to eat more.

It showed that the way kids related to food and eating was crucial in determining whether they will have a healthy or unhealthy relationship with food in the future.

Parents may not realise but putting food pressure on their kids has unintended effects, contributing to their kid’s risk of becoming overweight or obese and as a result, increasing their likelihood of developing health problems such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

“Many parents may not be aware that their efforts to control their children’s eating harm their children’s ability to regulate their eating on their own,” says parenting specialist Laura Hubbs-Tait from Oklahoma State University.

Kids eating everything on their plates may have been the way our parents and grandparents grew up when food was scarce, however these days we are dealing with the opposite problem… too much food.

“Controlling kids to eat more or less means they stop relying on their own body’s signals and eat until their parents are happy,” the study says.

The study shows that BMI increases more in children where their food intake is controlled more by the sight and smell of food, and less by an inner experience of hunger.

Eating more with our eyes than out stomachs has made us lose a lot of contact with our food and our feelings of hunger.

To ensure kids develop normal eating patterns and maintain a healthy weight, parents should promote a healthy relationship with food, by allowing their kids to decide how much they want to eat. Kids are usually better at this than adults are.

Instead of forcing or restricting your kid’s food, what should parents do?

Parents should provide a variety of healthy food options for their kids like veggies and fruits, in their lunchboxes, at home and at the dinner table and allow the child to decide on their own when they are satisfied.

Those who are worried about their child’s food intake should talk to a physician.

Parents are their children’s number one role model and should be helping them learn how to regulate their own eating, helping them learn to make good food choices and provide lots of encouragement and support to ensure their child has a healthy food relationship.

By Leah

To Tell Or Not To Tell

To Tell Or Not To Tell

Telling your child they are fat or chubby is one thing you should never do. Why? Because most likely they already know and although you may have good intentions, it can prove to be more harmful than you think.

Sydney based Dietician Lyndi Polivnick from The Nude Nutritionist says the conversation about your child’s weight issue can make them more self-conscious and insecure.

So how can you raise the conversation without telling them the obvious?

Start by structuring the conversation around health instead of weight, says Polivnick, speak to them about healthy foods like fruit and vegetables.

Set by example and encourage them to cook with you, help chop the veggies and learn more about their health benefits, how tasty they can be in fresh home cooked meals and their versatility. Get them asking questions about these foods, learning and gaining cooking skills and healthy food knowledge.

Not only should you child be curious, so should you. “Ask your child ‘How does junk food make you feel?’ and ‘How does healthy food make you feel?’ The intrinsic motivation to feel strong, healthy and/or happy is far more effective in long-term weight management then humiliation and punishment,” says Polivnick

As parents, you are your child’s number one role models. If you don’t have a healthy relationship with food, then most likely your child will adopt these practices and carry them into adulthood with them.
“Overweight children are almost guaranteed to be overweight parents, who are likely to go on to have overweight children themselves. We need to break the cycle by giving children practical skills around healthy eating and teaching them how to cook healthy food for themselves,” says Polivnick.

What a child needs is unconditional love from their number one support group, their parents, and their home should be a place where they feel safe, loved and valued no matter what they look like.

“Fear-mongering and unhelpful comments about their appearance and weight are not the answer,” says Polivnick, “The aim is get children eating healthily naturally, without having the diet or stress about their weight.”

So, get that conversation started today. Get the fresh food talk going and those cooking skills brewing so your kids can take their first steps in the right direction towards their healthy future.

By Leah