Childhood obesity is one of the most serious health challenges of the 21st century. Latest figures suggest that in the UK alone, almost 20% of 10-11 year olds are obese and a further 15% fall into the overweight category. Obesity in children poses a number of immediate and long-term health risks as well as emotional and psychological effects.
Thankfully, there are a number of initiatives designed to get children moving more and increase awareness of the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.
International Walk to School Month is an annual event aimed at increasing activity during the month of October. It’s just one of the ways we can encourage children to get out more, increase heart rate and give the body a workout – not to mention, help reduce carbon emissions and encourage the social interaction that come with walking to school.
Understanding the health risks of obesityChildhood obesity can have long term effects on both the physical and mental state of an individual.
For a severely overweight child, the future holds a significantly increased risk of:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Obstructive sleep apnoea
- Cardiovascular disease
- Mental health disorders
- Musculoskeletal problems
And this, sadly, is just the tip of the iceberg. Low self-esteem, anxiety and depression are particularly common, made worse by an increased likelihood of bullying and discrimination.
Previously considered an adult disease, the frequency of Type 2 Diabetes has increased dramatically in overweight children, some as young as five, and has been dubbed ‘diabesity’.
Longer term, overweight and obese children are more likely to become obese adults, resulting in a higher risk of disability, morbidity and premature death in adulthood.
How do we overcome childhood obesity?Initiatives such as International Walk to School Month, which takes place annually, give children, parents, school teachers an opportunity to be part of a global event as they celebrate the many benefits of walking.
Now in its 20th year – it originated in the UK in Hertfordshire – one of the initiative’s main aims is to promote healthier habits in children via the support of parents, teachers and the wider community. It is also a fantastic way for adults to stay active and achieve their own weight loss goals.Over 40 countries across the globe, including Australia and the US, have got behind the initiative, with an astonishing 750,000 people taking part in the UK alone.
But, however children exercise, the important thing is that they are encouraged and motivated to stay fit in one way or another. From team sports to individual recreational activities, there's no shortage of ways to get the pulse racing and the calories burnt.
Alongside exercise, the single most important factor in relationship to childhood obesity must be diet. Without better education on the dangers of poor nutrition and excess sugar, it is difficult to see the tide turning. Check out our blog on fizzy drinks and their role in weight gain for more information on this.
Other handy tips to get kids active
- Encourage your children to build a tree house or den during the school holidays. Supervise them as they become a mini adventurer and attempt to climb a tree or two.
- The GO Run For Fun campaign aims to get 100,000 children in the UK taking part in one of their events by 2016. The one mile course is just the right distance for young children and they can hop, skip, jump, walk or run – it’s all about fun whilst also promoting healthy habits from a young age.
- Take the dog for a walk. Don’t have one of your own? Why not ask to borrow a friend or neighbour’s dog and take it for a long walk in the great outdoors.
- If your child is interested in a particular sporting activity, such as football or rugby running then get behind them and support them.
- The National Parks websitehas lists of events such as guided walks and children’s fun days, for fresh ideas for active daysout.