Food For Thought

We know that all food eaten in moderation is good and unharmful for us and our children. But with childhood obesity on the rise in Asia, experts say that your child's eating behaviour and lifestyle can turn everyday food into an unhealthy diet that causes your child to pack on the pounds. Here's how you can instill the right eating behaviour in your child.

It's not just about weight loss

Doctors do not advocate simple weight loss for children. As Dr. Oh Jean Yin, Associate Consultant, General & Ambulatory Paediatrics, KK Women's and Children's Hospital, explains, children need adequate nutrition for other aspects of growth and development such as bone health, brain and organ development. Instead, doctors suggest inculcating healthy habits that last a lifetime.

Spend time at mealtimes.

Doctors advise families to eat together at meal times. This will give adults opportunities to be good role models for their children. For instance, parents can demonstrate the importance of breakfast, incorporating fruits and vegetables and meals, and having healthy snacks, while also monitoring their child's eating habits.

Offer healthy snacking alternatives.

The snacks available to children will depend on what parents pick up at the supermarket. When grocery shopping, parents can educate children in food types and nutrition. Give them healthy alternatives to snacks, such as buying more fruits and nuts, says Dr. Vera Oh (paediatrician at the Singapore Baby and Child Clinic with a special interest in Endocrinology and Growth), instead of stocking up with potato chips and instant noodles.

Get rid of bad eating habits.

Bad eating habits such as eating while studying, watching TV, eating when feeling stress, eating between meals, or when parents use food as a reward, all contribute to childhood obesity. Set realistic and achievable goals and then formulate realistic plans for your child. By taking baby steps, the success will help the child gain confidence and help them move on to the next step.

Give positive reinforcement of healthy behavior.

Use tangible rewards that encourage exercise or positive behaviour, advises Dr. Vera Oh. For example, the child could be awarded with a new badminton racquet, or given permission to play outdoors for a longer time.

Change family habits.

If the changes involve the whole family, then the child will not feel singled out. It is difficult for a child to maintain a healthy lifestyle if the rest of the family is eating junk food and watching television all day. The rest of the family can lead by example.

At the end of the day, fighting childhood obesity is not just about getting rid about of bad habits, it's about forming positive behaviour habits too. You can help your child view the changes in a positive way. Getting lots of physical activity, be it time in the playground or engaging in sports, and eating food that is nutritious can be an enjoyable part of your child's lifestyle.