Healthy eating and lifestyle
Physical activity and eating according to need
Eating according to energy needs means that the "fuel" from the foods eaten is the right amount for the activity levels of the person. Weight gain and obesity in childhood and adolescence is usually caused by eating too many energy-rich foods and by not being physically active.
Children use energy as they grow, and therefore they need higher energy foods including protein (such as meat, fish and eggs). It is natural for children to gain body fat during growth spurts.
A common cause of inactivity in children today is time spent on computers, playing games and networking with friends. It is not possible to avoid this entirely, but it’s a good idea to limit computer time and encourage children to get outside. Go with them! Encourage children to participate in some aerobic activity (activities that burn energy) 3-4 times a week for at least 20-30 minutes. It can be running, swimming or cycling, playing sport or dancing, or less organised activities like kicking a ball in the park or walking a dog.
Regular exercise and physical activity is necessary to
- help weight control
- keep muscles in good shape
- decrease tiredness by increasing fitness
- relieve tension caused by stress
Healthy body weight
Weight is not always an accurate measure of excessive body fat or obesity. A better guide compares a person's height to their weight to determine a healthy weight range. People whose weight falls within the healthy weight range have been shown to have fewer serious illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease.
Those who are outside the range, either above or below, are at greater risk of these and other health complications.
Children who are overweight are more likely to struggle to control their weight as adults. This is why an early start is so important to develop healthy food and lifestyle choices.
Children, especially those approaching adolescence can be very critical about their appearance and it is important not to focus on factors such as weight, which may lead to a negative body image.
Children with negative body image can be at higher risk of eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia. These are serious and very real medical conditions that require professional help. Talk to your care team if you are concerned that the child you are caring for has an eating disorder.
You can read more about eating disorders here
Strategies to encourage healthy eating
Some children coming into care do not have a background of healthy eating and may struggle to integrate healthy eating into their lives. It is important not to force new eating habits, and never use food as a punishment.
- Involve children in planning & shopping
- Use colourful foods and make unusual shapes for younger children
- Grow simple herbs and vegetables to help younger children understand food
- Involve older children in choosing recipes and learning to cook simple meals
- Model healthy choices - eat a variety of healthy food and drink plenty of water
Strategies to encourage a healthy lifestyle
- Encourage children to join you in activities - build these opportunities into everyday life
- Be enthusiastic about physical activity
- Talk to children about activities they may have done before, or that they would like to do
- Help them to research local activities
- Do some physical activities around the home and make it interesting for younger children
- If a child wants to lose weight, help them with a plan that includes a healthy diet, and set goals that are achievable - ask your care team for help with this
- When buying takeaway food look for healthier options
- Model healthy lifestyle choices
More information about healthy eating and lifestyle can be found on this website. Healthy kids