How big a problem is being obese or overweight for children?
Not a week goes by without hearing something in the news about the rising problem of obesity in this country. It’s something we should all be concerned about, especially when you hear how many children are affected. Around one third of all children in the UK are currently above a healthy weight and this number is increasing year on year. It’s estimated that by 2050, two thirds of children will be obese or overweight.
There are of course some serious consequences of being obese, including an increased risk of coronary heart disease, strokes, diabetes and other health problems. Most parents are understandably keen to ensure that the eating patterns their children develop are healthy ones and I’m often asked by parents if the amounts of foods their babies are eating are normal or whether they are eating too much and at risk of becoming overweight. As I said in my last blog, making sure your baby is active is important too.
Starting weaning at the correct time and not too early (recommended weaning age is 6 months, although some babies may need weaning earlier, although not before 4 months) is key to reducing obesity risk. Once weaning has started, you should encourage your baby to eat a varied, balanced diet; unhealthy eating can ‘programme’ young children’s tastes for the rest of their lives. Weaning babies on pureed junk food, chocolate bars, crisps and fizzy sugary drinks just isn’t an option!
For more information on a good diet to feed your baby, have a look at these links:
Your health visitor will advise you on how often you should get your baby weighed to check they are gaining weight at the correct rate, and if you have any concerns you should have a chat with them.
Goodbye for now.
The importance of a healthy lifestyle for our children
The last few weeks have seen a huge amount of media coverage on the impact of diet and activity levels on the long-term health of our children. This follows the publication of two Government reports looking at these important areas.
The Department of Health commissioned SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) to review the influence of maternal, fetal and child nutrition on the development of chronic disease (e.g. obesity, heart disease, diabetes) in later life.
They have also issued guidance on the level of activity we should all, including children, should undertake.
These reports highlight how important it is for us parents to encourage our children to take regular and sufficient physical activity and adopt a healthy lifestyle. Of course, we’re often hearing about how a good, well-balanced diet with sufficient, but not too much, energy is vital for good health at all stages of life, but this is the first time we’re being told how much exercise our young children should actually be doing.
In the UK, pre-school children have been shown to spend on average 2-2.5 hours a day being active, but the new recommendation is that they should do at least 3 hours per day, once they can walk unaided. This could be any form of activity, ranging from riding a bike, running, climbing, jumping, skipping, walking to swimming. Even before they can walk unaided, you should encourage your baby to take part in floor-based play such as rolling, reaching for and grasping things, pulling and pushing objects, and water-based activities. The report also discourages all of us from keeping our under 5s restrained in buggies, car seats or baby bouncers, or leaving them sitting in front of TV or computer screens, for extended periods.
Are your children active enough, what is their favourite activity, do you have any issues with this new recommendation, is this advice practical for you and your family? We’d love to hear from you.
Off for a run now!
My baby is constipated, what should I do?
I’m often asked for advice about bowel habits! One of the occupational hazards of being a nutritionist/dietitian I guess. If a parent comes to me saying that their baby is not passing frequent stools and the stools are hard, often pellet-like, and baby appears to be in some pain, it’s likely they are constipated. Constipation is most common in bottle fed babies (in which case I always check that the formula is being prepared correctly), and also in babies who have started eating more solids and drinking less milk. Caused by dehydration, in these cases I often advise parents to offer extra drinks of water or diluted juice which will help to rehydrate and relieve the constipated baby.
If baby has started weaning onto solids, it’s a good idea to give a variety of different pureed or chopped fruits (adjust consistency to suit age of baby), such as apples, apricots, blueberries, grapes, pears, plums, prunes, raspberries or strawberries. These are all fibrous foods that can help relieve constipation and are worth a try. Babies can also have some wholewheat pasta or breakfast cereals, porridge or wholemeal bread to increase the amount of fibre in their diet, but the amounts of these should be kept fairly small and not given every day as they can be a bit bulky for babies.
Giving a warm bath can sometimes help relax babies and relieve constipation, as can baby massage. Also, I often suggest that parents try lying their baby on his/her back and move their legs in a bicycling motion – this can often help.
If these home treatments have not worked, or if your baby’s constipation is severe, a doctor or pharmacist may suggest a laxative, probably lactulose, but only try this with their guidance.
Some useful websites to look at for more advice are:
The nhs website
Weaning advice on hipp.co.uk
Bye for now,
Does my baby or toddler need vitamin or mineral supplements?
Of course, none of us want our kids to be missing out on anything important in their diets and if there is a risk that they might not be getting enough of any particular vitamin or mineral we will probably want to give them a supplement of some sort, so when are supplements necessary?
In fact, the Government recommends that all children between 6 months and 5 years are given vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D. Even if your child is eating a wide variety of different foods, giving this vitamin supplement can safeguard them against vitamin deficiencies and so makes good sense.
A couple of important considerations –
- If you are breastfeeding your baby and you didn’t take a vitamin D supplement during pregnancy, you may be advised to give your baby a vitamin D supplement from 1 month of age, not 6 months
- If your baby is formula fed and is drinking more than 500ml formula per day, they will be getting the vitamins they need from this formula and so you won’t actually need to give them any extra vitamin supplements until they’re drinking less formula.
- It’s important to remember that too much of some vitamins is as harmful as not enough, so don’t give your baby two vitamin supplements at the same time.
Ask you health visitor for advice on which vitamin drops to use and if you’re eligible for free vitamin supplements for your baby.
Unlike vitamins, most babies won’t need mineral supplements.
One mineral parents often worry about is ‘iron’, but if your baby is eating some meat or fish every day, and eating other foods that are a good source of iron, such as fortified breakfast cereals, dark green vegetables, bread, beans and lentils, eggs, dried fruits (eg. apricots, figs and prunes), then they are likely to be getting enough iron to meet their needs. But if you are still concerned about your baby's iron intake, talk to your doctor and if they think a supplement is necessary then they can advise you on which one to give.
For most babies, milk and other dairy products will provide all the calcium a baby needs, but if your baby has a milk intolerance then it’s worth checking with your doctor if they are likely to be getting enough calcium and if a supplement is necessary.
I hope this helps. Until next time…
Healthy eating for babies and toddlers
The key to healthy eating for your babies and toddlers is variety! No one food can give them every nutrient they need, and a wide range of food tastes and textures experienced now will help ensure they have a healthier diet as they grow older. There are so many different foods readily available to us these days that, even if your baby has likes and dislikes, it should be possible to provide your baby with a varied, wholesome diet. Don’t worry if they go through phases of only wanting the same foods; this sometimes happens, but keep offering more different tastes along the way.
A healthy diet is one made up from a mixture of the 5 different food groups shown below:
Starchy foods - Every baby or toddler meal should be based on starchy foods such as rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, chapatti, cereals, yam or plantain (and offer starchy foods at some snack times).
Fruit and Veg - At every one of the mealtimes include some sort of fruit and/or vegetables. Aim for 5 portions per day and choose as many different colours of fruit and veg as possible.
Protein - Once weaning is established, aim to give two to three servings of ‘protein' foods such as meat, fish, eggs, beans or pulses, each day.
Dairy - Give them about three servings a day of dairy products such as milk, yogurt or cheese. From 6 months up to around the age of one year, your baby should be drinking about 500ml milk (breast or formula) per day, but this should decrease to around 360ml for toddlers from 1 year onwards.
Fats or sugar - Foods that are high in fat and/or sugar can be a valuable source of the extra energy that babies and toddlers need, but should only be given in limited quantities.
Of course, as weaning progresses and your baby reaches the end of their first year, the range of different foods they can eat should have increased. There is lots of helpful advice on feeding a balanced diet to your toddler, you might also like to visit the Little People Plates website.