School holidays – 2 or 3 weeks in which working parents juggle the demands of their career with child care and keeping busy, energetic children stimulated for an extra 6-8 hours a day. For some this will mean extra child care, or time off work and then there are the growing number of grandparents who are taking the role of secondary caregivers for more and more busy, working parents. While this may appear the perfect scenario for families, recent research published by the University of Helsinki has found that children who are cared for my grandparents are more likely to be overweight than children cared for by parents.
The study which was published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology examined the weight status of 9000 children living in the UK and found that on average 23% of children were overweight and 26% of children cared for by grandparents were overweight. Researchers concluded that the benefits associated with grandparents caring for children from a historical perspective may not hold in modern life in which sedentary entertainment, high calorie food choices and long working hours tend to dominate family life.
And every single day, we see this. Children spending hours if not days sitting in front of screens, food treats a regular daily occurrence and schedules being based on the child’s wants, interests and desires – long gone of the days where Michael spent the day pottering with Nan in the garden and a treat was a glass of milk and a homemade biscuit.
So what does this mean for parents and grandparents who naturally want to do the best by their children, at least from a health perspective long term? It means that we need to start saying no – no to purchasing food away from the home; no to the TV, video games and i-pad’s and no to spending more and more money on entertainment in place of simple activities such as playing in the park or heaven forbid in the garden with friends. Not only does saying no help to empower any caregiver to be in charge of the child rather than the other way round, it basically helps to control calorie intake and increase activity to help prevent excessive weight gain.
You only have to spend a little time in a shopping centre or local kids entertainment centre to see fat kids. In Australia at least 1 in 4 kids has a significant weight issue and no parent or grandparent really wants this.
School Holiday Healthy Family Tips
1) Limit treats to at most 1 extra food item such as a small ice cream once a day.
2) Limit screen time to 2 hours a day, this includes ipads and DVDs.
3) Arrange play dates with other children.
4) Avoid all sweet drinks and choose only water.
5) Pack lunches where possible.
6) Allow children to choose their treat each day; for example, do you want an ice cream now or a sushi later?
7) Avoid shopping centres where overconsumption is encouraged.
8) Never take a child out of the house hungry.
9) Choose kids sized portions of everything including milkshakes, cakes and drinks.
10) Avoid ‘all you can places’ such as sushi trains and smorgasbords.
Susie Burrell is a paediatric dietitian who has worked in the area of childhood obesity for more than 10 years – www.susieburrell.com.au.