Why it is so important
One in four children are now overweight or obese. This figure is on the rise! The good news is that overweight and obesity is extremely preventable and reversible, with a little help.
Many people become complacent about weight gain and worry more about their children getting enough to eat. This is understandable however, it is important to acknowledge that excess weight will put a child at risk of developing lifestyle related disease such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Making less healthy food choices and being inactive will also affects the mental health of a child and can lead to:
- Low self-esteem
- Decreased social interaction
- Increased risk of depression/ anxiety
- Ingrained habits that are hard to break later in life e.g. emotional eating
Did you know that the foundations for heart disease can be laid during childhood? This is when deposits of cholesterol, known as fatty streaks, start to build up in arteries. These can later turn in to plaques which are what lead to stroke, heart attack, sudden cardiac death and so on. For this reason, healthy eating and exercise are also crucial for those children who don’t appear to be overweight. A healthy outside does not always indicate a healthy inside.
Many parents are aware of their child’s unhealthy habits and they try time and time again to alter them. Unfortunately this is usually quite a struggle and after a while gets forgotten about! I will now discuss a structured way of setting goals and rewards that can help to keep you and your child on track.
Goals need to be SMART in order to be affective. This can be where many people go wrong. The points below explain the acronym.
Specific – be specific about what you want to change and what you want the ultimate outcome to be. For example, you and your child decide that they need to increase their consumption of vegetables.
Measurable – the goal needs to be quantified so that progress can be assessed, for example, to increase vegetable intake to five serves per day. If you don’t specify a measurement, how will you know you have been meeting the goal?
Achievable – You need to ensure that the goal will be easy to carry out each week. If your child’s goal is to walk for half an hour 4 times a week, you need to ask yourself whether someone will be available to go on the walk with your child and whether there will be time to go on 4 walks per week.
Realistic – The goal has to be realistic to what you want to achieve. It’s advised not to set the goal too high because this will only discourage the child if they don’t achieve it. Goals can always be made more difficult as you go along! It also has to be related to what you want the ultimate outcome to be. If you want to eat healthier and decide to start by eating less chocolate, yet you only eat chocolate once a month anyway, then this probably isn’t the area you need to work on and it won’t make a significant difference!
Time – A deadline should be set for the goal to be achieved. Deadlines always keep people motivated and help in working towards the desired outcome e.g. one month to work towards eating five serves of vegetables per day.
The goals can be achieved in small increments. You do not want to overwhelm your poor child! Get to the larger goal by taking small steps – this can be written up on a chart and stickers can be awarded when the smaller weekly goal is met. This also helps to keep children motivated and it helps them to keep track of their progress.
Good example: I will be eating five servings of vegetables, every day by one month’s time.
An example of the weekly goal could be: This week I will eat two servings of vegetables every day.
Bad example: I am going to be eating healthier in one month’s time.
Good example: I will be able to go running for 30 minutes straight by two month’s time.
Smaller weekly goal: I will run for 10 minutes straight three days this week.
Bad example: I will increase my fitness level
It’s no good being wishy washy with a goal!
Kids respond really well to rewards so this is an important part of the goal setting process. Rewards do not need to be big and do not need to be materialistic – many children are happy even with small things!
Choose one small reward that your child can receive each week, only if they have stuck to their goals! Otherwise they will realise that they do not have to stick to their goals in order to be gifted. By the end of the time period you have set to achieve the ultimate outcome, give your child a bigger reward that they have been really wanting. This will keep them interested! For example, going bowling or a new skate board.
Examples of Small weekly rewards:
- A pack of stickers
- Having a friend come over
- Going on a picnic (with healthy food options)
- Staying up for one hour later on a Sunday
It is a good idea to give small rewards on a daily basis too. This can be as small as saying you are proud of your child (which most kids actually love to hear!).
A note on food rewards:
It is also very important to not use food as a reward! This can develop bad habits and unhealthy associations with food. Food rewards often lead to emotional/ comfort eating which carries in to adolescence and adulthood – this habit can be extremely hard to break so avoid it occurring in the first instance!
Rewards can include food e.g. a picnic but the food shouldn’t be the focus of the reward and foods served should be healthy.
So give the above tips a go and set some small goals for your children to work towards! Make it fun and track their progress using a goals and rewards chart – remember to be specific.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have questions about healthy eating, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.