Parents Urged to Assist Children to Adopt Healthy Lifestyles


Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that obesity in children has become an increasing problem in Jamaica.
According to the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey 2006, one out of every four adolescents between the ages of 15 to 19 years is overweight. This finding is also supported by the monthly clinic summary report from hospitals and clinics across the island, which show that 6.7 per cent of children below the age of five, are overweight.
Dietician in the Ministry of Health, Deon Bent told JIS News that there are also other surveys that indicate this growing trend in the nation’s youth such as a healthy lifestyle survey of 2000, which indicated that one out of every five children between the ages of 9 and 11 years, is overweight.
“It is definitely a growing problem in our society and obesity comes with a number of complications or consequences. Children who are overweight or obese tend to be more depressed. They have low self esteem and this is because they are teased a lot,” she informed.
“They [children] are at higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, high levels of fat in the blood, high blood pressure and bone disorders and sleep apnea, where they have problems with breathing during the night,” Ms. Bent added.
While she attributed the problem to a plethora of factors, such as hormonal and psycho-social issues, she stressed that there was definitely a nutritional component to the problem as well as the fact that some children were not as active as they should be.”They are eating too much food with energy for their age and also they are not burning off this energy. They are not engaged in enough physical activity,” she noted.
Parents and caregivers have a role to play in stemming the problem.
Ms. Bent suggested they not withhold food, which children need to eat, as it is important not to compromise the children’s growth. “While you are trying to manage this problem, children need to be offered a wide variety of foods,” she said.”We always mention the staples, cereals, cornmeal, cornflakes, dumplings, ground provisions such as bananas and yam along with peas and beans, fruits, vegetables and limit the amount of fats and oil,” Ms. Bent further stated.
Parents, she said could also pay attention to cooking methods used in the home. “So if you find that you are frying the foods a lot, you might want to change to baking, stewing and grilling,” she advised.
Additionally, before preparing the meats or substitute foods, all fats and skins should be removed and thrown out. “Some children like the skin and the fat when it is all fried up and that should not be encouraged because it contains fat very high in energy,” Ms. Bent warned, adding that when preparing gravy with meals parents should desist from making it oily.
In terms of snacks, Ms. Bent encouraged parents to make these as healthy as possible, noting that the most healthy form of snacks are fruits, whether it is in whole form or dried, such as raisins.
Another good form of snacks, she said are vegetables. “When it comes on to eating vegetables in the home, I am going to encourage parents to demonstrate that behaviour. So the parent or caregiver should eat the vegetables in front of the children and then they too will eat more of that item,” she suggested.
Commenting on how parents could ensure that their children eat healthy outside of the home, Ms. Bent said that they could begin by first talking to the children about nutrition in the home.
“They need to talk about what is healthy eating and give examples so that children can buy (into the philosophy),” she said.
“An important part of ensuring that the children get healthy options in the school setting in particular is for parents to become more active in their Parent/Teachers Association (PTA) and have a voice in what you would like to see offered by the school in terms of healthy options. Also engage the vendors through your PTA in terms of what they sell at the gate. It is important for parents to be very active in their PTA and speak to their school administrators and let them know that providing healthy options for children are important,” Ms. Bent implored.
Reading the labels of food items is also very important in determining healthy foods for children. “I will encourage parents to read the labels to see exactly the content of the product and if an item such as sugar or fat comes high up on the ingredient list, it tells you that product is probably high in sugar or fat,” she explained.
In addition to adopting these approaches, parents should also create opportunities for children to play more. These include buying a child a skip rope, hoola-hoop, erecting a basketball hoop, offering a bicycle as a gift, encouraging football and playing traditional games such as hop scotch, among other activities.
“Dancing is another way of introducing play among children and where parents can afford to pay for physical activities like tennis, swimming and karate, this should be encouraged, but the parent should allow the child to say which one they will participate in,” she advised.
Parents should also monitor the sedentary type activities of their children. This includes the number of hours children dedicate to playing video games and watching the television. “Most of the studies are showing that children who watch television for more than two hours are at higher risk for becoming overweight or obese,” Ms. Bent pointed out.
Children who are obese or overweight can be helped. Parents can first seek help from a pediatrician or medical doctor, who will probably be the first person outside of the home to recognize a problem.
“It is important that parents realize that they cannot leave it up to chance anymore to say that the child will “grow out” the problem. It is important to get help also from a dietician or nutritionist and the latter is located in health departments and clinics throughout the island, while the former is usually based in hospitals,” she said.

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