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What can be done to stop childhood obesity?

As childhood obesity rates soar, parents and professionals are finding ways to help stop the epidemic.

The National Task Force on Obesity continue to warn of childhood obesity as the problem hits epidemic levels in Ireland with 300,000 overweight and obese children, rising 10,000 per year as children continue to consume more than they require and a lack any participation in physical activities. The problems arising from obesity are costly in physical, social and financial terms. Overweight children are more likely to be teased and bullied; they are also more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses from childhood to adulthood
 
Schools play an important role in helping to control this epidemic with regards to education and physical activities. However, it is also critical that parents take on the responsibility of healthy eating and living at home.
 
Healthy eating is about consuming a varied diet with the correct portion size, and provides a diet that contains all essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Different foods contain different nutrients which are required for the body to survive and thrive. To understand what foods should be eaten, when and how often, the Food Pyramid developed by the World Health Organisation show what foods provide what nourishment, how many servings are appropriate and what foods should be eaten less often or on a treat only basis.
 
Children can be picky eaters at times, and often a parent will have to work to ensure they eat the healthy food. Vegetables are often top of the most disliked lists, but there are ways to include them in the diet and make them more appealing. Including them in stews and caseroles is an easy way to 'hide' them among a bigger dish, or making a blended soup allows the inlcusion of lots of vegetables that are normally the cause for a row. Adding vegetables as pizza toppings is a great way to camouflage and it's also worth considering if kids prefer vegetables that have a crunch to them, rather than soft veg, if you're serving them as a stir fry or steamed they are often better served with a crunch. 
 
Snacks should be healthy options including raisins and milk, or a piece of fruit or a cheese triangle. These types of snacks are filling but also contain essential nutrients.
 
Encouraging children to understand food is always a really important factor. Getting them to partake in planting fruit and vegetables at home, and getting them involved in harvesting and cooking and eating the homegrown food is an excellent way to keep them involved from start to finish.
 
Parents have a responsibility to ensure the presses at home aren't filled with unhealthy snacks - it's very hard to refuse something that is already there. Kids love to snack, and if there are only healthy foods to snack on, that's what they will eat.

Being part of sports clubs and outdoor activities are a great way to stay fit and keep active. And parents should encourage this, but it's also possible to teach your child to be active with you. You need to set the limit on time spent in front of the computer, TV, or playing video games and encourage them to get outside. Whether it's walking as a family at the weekends, or choosing to walk to school each day (if that's an option) there are plenty of no cost ways to encourage an active life so it doesn't always have to involve expensive clubs and activities. Kids love nothing more than when mum or dad goes out to play with them on the road or local park - kicking a football or playing catch, it can be about simple activities that will help you all stay active and healthy.

Children learn from example, so make physical activity a family event. When your child sees you participating, they will enjoy the activity more.
 
With a balanced diet, limited unhealthy options at home and an active lifestyle, you will ensure your child has the best chances possible of growing up a healthy weight, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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