Recent statistics provide a harsh wake-up call for teens and children. According to a report produced by the British Medical Association (BMA), the state of adolescent health in the UK is in a poor condition. Too many high-fat, high-calorie foods, along with a sedentary lifestyle is contributing the following alarming statistics:

  • A staggering one in five youngsters aged 13 to 16 are overweight and nearly one in five 15-year-olds are obese.
  • The number of obese children has increased dramatically. In the United Kingdom, more than 350,000 children under 16 are obese and at risk of serious health problems.
  • More than 60% of overweight children have at least one heart disease risk factor.
  • Type II diabetes is now being diagnosed in obese teenagers.
  • Evidence shows that obese children are likely to become obese teenagers and adults.
  • Obesity can damage children’s psychological well-being, contributing to anxiety and depression. Obese children are often subject to teasing and bullying, with potentially devastating effects on their self-esteem

The Royal College of Paediatrics suggests parents should be actively involved in helping children manage their weight, and says obesity problems should be dealt with slowly, by making gradual changes to eating habits and physical activity. The key to maintaining a good weight is to balance your energy intake and output, as weight is gained if you regularly eat more than you burn off. So simply eat less high calorie food and be more active… that means less burgers and crisps and less play station.

Healthy eating ideas for the family

Healthy bones – Milk, cheese, yoghurt, soya beans and nuts are rich in calcium, which is needed for healthy bones and teeth. Fortified breakfast cereals, margarine and oily fish are good sources of dietary vitamin D, which helps ensure a good supply of calcium in the blood and therefore healthy bones. The main source of vitamin D is from the action of sunlight on skin, but avoids strong sun especially around midday when there is a risk of burning.

Iron – Red meat, liver, and fish are rich sources of iron. Pulses (beans and lentils), green vegetables and fortified cereals are also good sources of iron. Iron is needed for healthy blood and research has shown that some children have low intakes of iron, particularly older girls.

Protein – At least two portions of fish a week because fish are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals and they are low in saturated fat. Oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon and sardines, also contain omega 3 fatty acids.

Vitamins – Citrus fruit (such as oranges and lemons), tomatoes and potatoes, are all good sources of vitamin C which is essential for health. Vitamin C may help the absorption of iron, so having fruit juice with an iron-rich meal will increase iron absorption. Milk, margarine, butter, green vegetables, carrots and apricots are all good sources of vitamin A which is important for good vision and healthy skin.

Drink lots – Cartons of fruit juice are extremely convenient, but sometimes are high in sugar. Sweet drinks also damage the teeth, especially if sipped from a bottle over long periods between meals. Encourage your child to drink water or milk and fruit juices with meals.

Snacks – Try to make sure children eat sugary snacks occasionally or in small amounts, so they only make up a relatively small part of the overall diet. Help and encourage your child to clean their teeth every day.

Salt – There’s no need to add salt to your child’s food. If you’re buying processed foods, even those aimed at children, remember to check the information given on the labels to choose those with less salt.