Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Childhood Health

I am lucky enough to have two gorgeous little boys. One is seven, the other four. They are brimming with life, exuberance and 100% in your face! Naturally, I wouldn’t have it any other way! One of their favorite pastimes is wrestling (and beating up) daddy and they love walks and cycle rides around our little village. Like most children they adore the park and of course, soft play areas! Hopefully this rings true to most other parents.

In this blog my aim is not to come across arrogant, judgmental or like I believe I am the world’s best father. What I am is a dedicated dad who happens to be a personal trainer. Like most other parents I experience the day to day struggles associated with trying to do the best for my children. I have written this article to highlight some scary facts but also offer hope with some potential alternative choices when it comes to ensuring your child is fit, healthy and happy. 
Childhood obesity is an ongoing hot topic in the media and rightly so. I believe it is a worrying and fundamental problem that is clearly obvious to my eyes when I’m out and about. Across the board children are becoming more sedentary and eating cheaper, more convenient and ultimately poorer quality, processed foods. Foods which are less dense in nutritious content but filled with nasties such as salt, sugar, fat and additives.

I am not claiming for one second that my boys don’t have lazy days were they watch TV or play on their IPads and they certainly enjoy foods which I would rather they didn’t. (To be fair so do I!)  What I can say is that I will always ensure they get out of the house and do some physical activity to stimulate their brains and bodies for an hour or two. The majority of time at home they are cooked healthy, nutrient rich foods. I personally love cooking from scratch and I enjoy getting my boys involved in the cooking process where I can. Involving the children means we all own the process and they clearly appreciate eating something they helped create. What’s more, it’s a great way to spend quality time with them. Satisfaction all round. Disclaimer… be prepared for mess!

Some facts and stats on childhood obesity in the UK:

On average across the UK, almost one quarter of children are overweight or obese by the time they start school. – This to my mind is staggering.

Typically, it is the poorest children who are most likely to be overweight or obese and to have a poor diet. They’re the least likely to eat enough fruit and vegetables and the most likely to eat foods high in fat, sugar and salt every day.

Obese children are at greater risk of conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, and of heart disease and stroke as they get older.

Obesity in childhood can contribute to behavioral and emotional difficulties like depression, and reduce educational attainment. Obese children are more likely to need medical care and days off school as a result of illness. - From my own experiences owning gyms and personal training businesses I have come to realise so many people suffer and have suffered since childhood with depression.

Excess consumption of sugar is damaging children’s teeth, with extractions the most common reason for 5-9 year-olds in England to be admitted to hospital. This blows my mind.

Currently my wife and I are looking into various after school clubs for our children as we both believe in offering them further physical and mental stimulation outside of their school and home environments. They both swim once a week and I’m sure it’s a given my eldest will try out my Little Dragons Martial Arts Classes.  They already swim once a week and we are looking at enrolling one into a modern dance class and the other, a local Beaver group (Beavers are similar to scouts but for younger children) 

Unfortunately it appears in the UK and across the Western world millions of children aren’t getting these opportunities. This can be for a number of reasons such as:

Too little emphasis or interest from parents or guardians to help get their children active. - I would like to think most children have a teacher or adult in their life that would encourage and take the time to help them take part in some physical activity.

Parents are too busy to cook from scratch or take their children to classes – This for me is a simple work life balance issue.

Clubs and hobbies can be very expensive and create a financial burden.

Advertising of junk food is rife on TV and try saying no all the time to your child!

Eating healthily can be extortionate. - Have you ever been at the super market and compared the prices in the junk food Isles to those of the fruit and veg and organic sections? - I personally would love to see the government doing more to promote healthy eating. For me it is essentially a sickness industry. One option is narrowing the price discrepancy between health and junk food!

Admittedly if your funds are tight it can be difficult to pay for clubs or to buy good healthy foods but I do have some simple suggestions.

          Buy less junk food snacks and use the money you save to upgrade and purchase better quality meal foods

          If you and your children eat too much, reduce portion size in meals and avoid creating food waste. This will result in smaller food shops leaving money in your pocket!

          Consider how much you spend on your children’s electronic devices such as computer games and small toys that get played with once and then thrown away. Place a spending cap on those items and use the surplus cash to go swimming or enroll your child in a club. 

If money is still tight, organise walks, cycles, and play dates with your children’s friends. Take them to the woods to make forts and bases, climb trees, kick a football round, or go out looking for wildlife. These are all fantastic activities which build experiences and make happy memories.

I am all for choice but many children, including my own at times, would rather pick their electronic devices over going out to play or taking part in their sports / activity club. What I guarantee though is 9/10 times your children will have a better time burning off energy, socialising outside and blowing of steam than they would cooped up in front of a screen eating sweets.

Happy, healthy children. That’s all we really want.