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Eat Yourself Whole

Childhood Obesity in NZ

A nation wide New Zealand survey in 2003 found that 43 per cent of children eat less than the recommended daily three or more portions of vegetables and 57 per cent consumed less than two portions of fruit.

The 2002 Children's Nutrition Survey showed that about one third of New Zealand children between 5-14 years were overweight (21 percent) or obese (10 percent).

Parental obesity is a strong predictive risk factor for childhood obesity.

A report from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention indicates 15 per cent of American children are overweight.
American research also indicates children of overweight mothers are 15 times more likely to be obese by the age of 6 than the children of lean mothers.

The study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that children began piling on the kilos at 3, with a spike in weight gain between the ages of 3 and 6. The research suggests that genes that control body weight may be active during this period.

The six year long study of 70 children from half lean and half overweight mothers found that while babies there was little difference in the 2 groups. But at the age of 3, a third of the children gained weight quickly.

Only one of the child of a mother from the healthy weight group became overweight.

A child with a high level of obesity is 60-70% more likely to become an obese adult. The likelihood of adult obesity also increases with the age of the child. Children who are obese between the ages of 2-8 years are less likely to become obese as adult as are children who are obese between the ages of 10 and 18.

Parenting styles may also influence the development of food preferences and the ability for the child to regulate intake.

Families serve as models, which reinforce and support the acquisition and maintenance of eating and exercise behaviour.

An Auckland-based study conducted over four years by a team from Starship Children's Hospital lead by paediatrician Cameron Grant found that one in every 10 Auckland children is growing up with vitamin deficiencies commonly found in Third World children.

The study also found that 12 per cent of toddlers aged from six months to two years do not have enough vitamin A, a deficiency that causes blindness in more than 250,000 children in developing countries each year. Vitamin A is made in the body from red fruits and vegetables such as peaches and carrots, and plays a pivotal role in being able to see at night. It also helps to protect the body against infectious diseases.

Ten per cent of Auckland infants do not get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D is made by the body when exposed to sunlight. Aiding the body with the absorption of calcium and other minerals, a deficiency in Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin, can result in soft bones (resulting in curved spines, bow legs and poor teeth) and rickets.

The study also found 25% of Auckland infants have too little iron in their blood. Iron is essential in for the body to produce haemoglobin molecules that carry oxygen in the blood stream giving people strength and energy. The recommended daily intake of iron is approximately a hundredth of a gram. Iron deficient children and adults are often tired, apathetic, and find it hard to concentrate.

Taking supplements to increase iron levels should not be necessary for most people as iron and zinc can be found in foods such as lean red meats, green leafy vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals. Vegetarians however need to take care with iron intake and to adopt strategies that will enhance iron absorption.

The study indicates that New Zealanders either do not know what is good for them and their children to eat, or cannot afford to buy the foods they need.

Serving Sizes

Researchers in America (Lisa Young and Marion Nestle) believe that the larger portions available today in foods such as muffins, cookies and chips could be linked to childhood obesity.

During the 1950's McDonald's sold only one serving size of french fries. Today, a 1950's serving is equivalent to the smallest serving size available, and is approximately one-third the size of the largest portion.

For an extra 60 cents, you are able to upgrade a burger meal from a medium to large serving; this increases the kilojoules of energy by approximately 700 kilojoules.

Can an overweight child be put on a diet?

Putting children on diets to reduce weight is not recommended. Children who are overweight should be allowed to grow into their ideal weight for height

Children need to:

  • eat many different foods
  • eat enough for activity and growth
  • eat mini-meals or snacks
  • have plenty to drink
  • have treat foods now and then
  • take part in regular physical activity

It is important for a child to see that the entire family is actively involved in any changes to existing eating patterns and exercise routines. Establishing sensible eating patterns and regular physical activity should be the primary goal. Eating patterns should be flexible, if they are too strict adherence will be low.