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Health delivery


Lifestyle education for children – some useful strategies
Viviana Viviant

In many cases, overweight and obesity in children constitute a grim warning for future health: if no action is taken, an overweight or obese child is likely to grow into an overweight or obese adult with a series of chronic health problems – among them, type 2 diabetes. Indeed, obesity-relatedhealth conditions, including the metabolic syndrome – a strong risk factor for cardiovascular diseases – are increasingly prevalent among children around the world. There is a clear need to address body weight from an early age, not as part of an obsession with aesthetics, but with a view to protecting current and future health and well-being. Viviana Viviant offers some practical strategies forparents, carers and their healthcare providers to promote a healthy lifestyle from the earliest years.

Food choices and physical activity play central roles in determining body weight and the distribution of body fat. Nowadays, however, parents face an uphill struggle to combat the influence on their children of the all-pervading and highly effective marketing of convenience foods and soft drinksthat are high in sugars, fats and salt, and low in essential nutrients and vitamins. Television, films and Internet sites aimed at children play a dual role in the promotion of obesity in young people – carrying advertisements for these potentially harmful products, and enticing children into sedentary behaviour, contributing to the development of a generation of couch – and mouse – potatoes. Theresult is a dramatic and ongoing rise in the incidence of non-communicable chronic diseases, including type  diabetes and cancers, in younger and younger populations. Support and containment In many cases, eating disorders – eating too much or too little – are rooted in self-esteem issues. In order to protect themselves against self-harming behaviours – over-eating, binge eating,anorexia-related under-eating – it is essential that young people accept themselves, whatever their physical dimensions. Parents must play a key role in motivating children, promoting positive feelings of self-esteem, while

December 2007 | Volume 52 | Issue 4


Health delivery

Children should come into contact with a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and other foodstuffs.

at the same timeallowing time and space for young people to discuss any weight-related anxieties. In order to avoid isolating and possibly marginalizing children with overweight, emphasis should be placed on gradual lifestyle modification, which should be undertaken by the entire family. Parents must play a key role in promoting positive feelings of self-esteem. Regular physical activity combined with a balanced dietis the key to healthy weight control. Children should derive motivation and opportunities to engage in exercise from their home environment. Uncomplicated but effective strategies to promote increased physical activity among children might include some of the following. Positive roles Human behaviour is almost entirely acquired; to a greater or lesser extent, children model themselves on theirparents’ behaviour. Young people with physically active parents are more likely to maintain an active lifestyle throughout adult life than those with sedentary parents. Enjoyable activities should be planned into free time for the entire family, wherever possible in natural surroundings. Also, active behaviour can be ‘covertly’ instilled into children’s

December 2007 | Volume 52 | Issue 4 Health delivery


daily life: taking the stairs instead of the escalator or lift or using a bicycle instead of a car or bus. Healthy eating behaviour which is learned at an early age, like a physically active lifestyle, is likely to be maintained throughout adulthood. The foundation for learning responsible self-care is laid through the development of a healthy relationship with food. Children...
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