FAT KIDS – Why so Many and How we Can Help

*Fat kids = kids who have an amount of body fat that’s above the healthy level, meaning there is something metabolically happening inside them which will predispose them to a long list of health conditions if they stay fat.

They might be super-cute, lovely, happy & seemingly healthy kids, & their parents may seem to be doing everything right – but the bottom line is that they’re overweight & they’re unwell (or will be).  We need to do something about it – overweight kids grow into overweight adults (& they don’t get much choice in the matter if they’re well on the way before their teen years). It’s gotta start with mum & dad…trouble is, we’re a few generations into this epidemic now, & kids learn their eating & lifestyle habits from mum & dad – who are often overweight due to these themselves.  So…I’m just exploring a few of the reasons I believe we’re all getting so fat, & offering some tips to help the kids who are looking like joining the early obesity crowd!

I’m totally guilty of many of the parenting ‘fails’ I’m going to mention here, this isn’t meant to be blaming or judgemental. The point is just to highlight where we’ve been collectively ‘messing up’ & what we can all start doing right now, to help save our kids from a lifelong struggle with obesity & all the health consequences that go along with it.  

What’s Happened In The Last 30 Years?

When I was in school (1986-1997), there were only ever 1 or 2 fat kids in the classes. In any classroom of say 25 kids, you’d see maybe 1 or 2 kids that were carrying an unhealthy amount of excess fat. It was relatively uncommon. Anyone my age or older will back me up on that. Fatness in kids was rare, you’d see it much more in older people.

Today if you visit an Aussie school & go for a wander through the classrooms, you’ll notice there are a LOT more fat kids, 25% of them or more are overweight. That means at least 1 in every 4 of our school kids are:

  • at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes (many are well on their way). It’s no longer called ‘adult onset diabetes’ as so many young people are being diagnosed.
  • more likely to die early from cardiovascular disease (Australia’s biggest killer).
  • more likely to be suffering from anxiety & depression (that will worsen as they get older)
  • more likely to develop asthma, certain skin issues, arthritis, gout, liver & gallbladder disease & some cancers.
  • physically unable to participate in activities they’d love to try.
  • going to struggle with a tendency towards obesity for their entire life (overweight kids generally turn into overweight adults).
  • more likely to have menstrual problems, & trouble having children themselves

…& the list goes on, & the scary thing is that many of these health issues used to be ‘adults only’. It’s not fair, the kids didn’t choose this path, they’ve just found themselves stuck on it. How? Why? A few factors in combination I think…

Screens, devices & games became the dominant leisure activity:

From as young as 18mths (sometimes even younger) you see kids being introduced to ‘screentime’ on an iPad or similar device. It used to be just the TV you had to limit as a parent, but now there are highly addictive ‘portable TVS’ that kids are taking with them on outings because it ‘keeps them happy’ so parents can have lunch / do their work / talk to their friend / have a meeting / go to the hairdresser / shop in peace. Whoa – what are we training our bubs to do here?? To seek happiness, entertainment, & companionship in front of a screen? And teaching them nothing else that we would otherwise be using these opportunities & outings to teach.

Some argue that devices are great to alleviate / eliminate boredom – maybe, under certain circumstances, every now & then…but remember that boredom is actually a really valuable feeling for our kids to experience, they should feel it often. It is the absolute mother of creativity in children, the ‘blank canvas’ that gives rise to new ideas. Give a few children NOTHING to do, & they’ll soon make-up something crazily creative & fun. We don’t want to deprive our young kids of this type of experience & limit chances to develop their creative skills. 

Kids who grow up in front of screens from a young age often seem completely lost without one when they get older. They can’t communicate as effectively, they have fewer face-to-face social skills & they can’t easily entertain themselves like kids who’ve grown up practicing these skills every day instead of just pushing buttons. Ok – the button pushers may end up better prepared for some of the tech jobs in future, but really – what kind of an excuse is that?! It’s the one I hear from parents who like to eat their lunch in peace!

So screen time is not something you wanna encourage / allow in really young kids for ‘non-obesity-related reasons’ – but also think about this. When do you ever see a young child sit still naturally for more than 5 minutes at a time, unless they’re feeling unwell? Maybe some will play quietly when doing things like Lego/ blocks/cars/drawing (do kids still do those things?) But they’re not spending large chunks of their time completely motionless as they will in front of a device. And they’re not so addicted to their real-life block-building that they’ll chuck a wobbly when asked to come outside / have dinner / leave it for a bit to talk to Nanna. Try taking a favourite iPad game away from an engrossed kid – it’s scary to watch the level of addiction that such young people are developing. 

What to do: 

If your kids are still babies, don’t introduce them to device-land, hold off for as long as possible!! As tempting as it may be to just give in for your own sanity, keep your little ones away from iPads / smartphones as long as you can, at least in your home. Don’t worry, they’ll soon catch up & become tech-savvy once they get their hands on them later in life! It’s like junk food & sugar – you’re never going to be able to protect your kids from the crappy addictive food surrounding them forever, but you’ll make your life sooo much harder by introducing this stuff early. Who wants to eat broccoli when they’ve tasted cupcakes??  Who wants to play with wooden blocks when they’ve had a go at Minecraft? Supply the lego / blocks, don’t supply the devices. Because…who wants to deal with addiction & behaviour problems in 7-year-olds? Allowing little kids to stay glued motionless to a screen for hours on end getting a constant stream of addictive dopamine hits is detrimental to their development & to their health, & constantly using a device to ‘babysit’ for you is borderline child abuse. They’ll turn into the teenagers who rarely leave their rooms cos they’re too busy gaming. (Parents of those teens argue that their teenagers are safest locked up in a room gaming, better there than on the streets…& they kind of have a point…but really, it’s still about making life easier for mum & dad & it’s not supporting the kid’s development).

People say about kids & gaming ‘moderation is fine’. The problem is that addictive things are very hard to consume in moderation :( 

If your kids are already fat & addicted to games (or even if they’re not overweight), you can strike a deal with them – they can play their beloved games only on days when they’ve burnt some energy in the morning. The best time to get fat kids exercising is first thing in the morning. They won’t feel like it at first (they’re insulin resistant so not much energy can get into their cells to burn), but early morning is your best fat-burning opportunity, before food. Make it a fun outing – skate park, scooter or bike ride, group fitness class, beach walk / swim / surf / kayak / dog park, swimming pool, bushwalk, yoga together, dance in the kitchen, ball games…whatever suits the kid, just do something with them to get their muscles working (that will burn any stored energy leftover from the night & mean that when it’s all gone, they’ll have to switch to fat for fuel). They’ll feel more energetic & the more you can develop & strengthen their muscles, the better their metabolism will work. Start this ideally before they’re teenagers as it can be really hard to get teens out of bed early (or get them to do anything with you)!

Early Food – Pre-conception, Pregnancy.

One of the biggest factors in the ‘childhood obesity epidemic’ is what our kids are eating early in life – even what mum is eating during pregnancy (& before) can shape her child’s metabolism & be the starting point of a lifelong battle with obesity & disease.

If you are into eating poorly – fine, you’re an adult woman & not really interested in looking after your body, that’s your choice, not a problem. Just don’t get pregnant!! That’s unfair, mean (& really quite dumb too)!

     No 1 – your child starts life with a huge health disadvantage that is your fault for not taking the responsibility of growing a new human being inside you seriously.

    No 2 – you’ll often have a much harder time with that baby / child, dealing with preventable illness & behavioural issues as they grow.

    No 3 – the rest of the population has to put up with their behaviour & pay for the health issues that you’ve created through negligence.

Come on mums! I sometimes think that growing a child should require a license (or at least a compulsory course on health & nutrition first). It shouldn’t have to, but the ‘food’ companies that are feeding us such crap everywhere don’t make it easy for mums to stay on track through a time when nutrition is so crucial (& cravings can be so strong!) 

What To Do:

Eat the best quality fresh, natural wholefood you can during pregnancy & breastfeeding, avoid the crap & know that you are literally providing the building blocks for your child’s early development. It will pay off later, plus it won’t do you any harm either! And if you don’t know the difference between good food & crap, you owe it to yourself & your unborn child to do some research / get help to understand it. And dads – you’re not off the hook, you need to eat properly & cut the crap to support your partner too, the responsibility is huge, so you can at least help out with moral support & not bringing home any tempting junk! If anyone out there is still silly enough to be smoking cigarettes (that’s mum or dad) during the pregnancy period – know that you’ll have increased your kids’ chances of becoming diabetic & obese (before it’s even been born) because you didn’t have the sense / self-discipline / care-factor to quit.

Double Income Family = Double The Kid’s Kgs?

There’s definitely some truth here – there’s a correlation between the rise of childhood obesity & women working more hours outside the home. I’ve been a stay at home mum, a part-time worker / mum & a full-time working mum & I know, with both parents working long hours all week, it leaves very little time or energy to put into shopping properly, food planning & preparation.  You just do what is quick & easy.

Families with 2 full-time working parents are much more likely to grab a quick takeaway or eat out than eat a healthy home-cooked meal together. This means their kids will be consuming a lot more trans fats, sugar, refined carbohydrates & less fresh vegetables at many of their evening meals. Older kids are also more likely to munch out on junk food after school with no parents home, & less likely to be participating in after-school sports (no taxi service!)

The ‘rush-rush’ nature of our lifestyle now means that kids may also have a higher level of baseline stress (as their busy parents will), & higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been found in overweight kids. Stressed out parents & kids eat more carb-rich ‘comfort’ foods & will also get less sleep (making them more insulin resistant & likely to store belly fat).

What To Do:

Value the role of parenting as much (or more) than what you do for a career. You are raising new humans, this is a big thing, absolutely worthy of sacrificing some income & your own career progression for a while. Just be prepared for the unimpressed ‘oh’ you’ll get from ’super-mums’ when you explain that you’re a stay at home parent by choice. I applaud full-time parents, those who make the decision to spend the time bringing up their own kids rather than paying someone else to do it. If you can’t see a way to work less – you need to plan better so exhaustion & lack of time doesn’t mean the kids eat KFC or beans on toast. Get quality food delivered (there are loads of companies offering these services now), make breakfasts super-nutritious (our website has loads of easy ideas), make the after school feed count (i.e. veggies, protein, good fats – have something pre-made i.e. leftover dinner or ingredients for a quick platter/ smoothie / bowl), use a slow-cooker so dinner is ready when everyone gets home exhausted, save leftovers in the freezer for crazy evenings…& just don’t make fast food an option, kids will always demand it if they know you’re likely to cave…if you need a takeaway at least make it closer to real food, like a Thai or Indian dish with loads of veggies, or choose food from a quality restaurant. Don’t teach your kids that drive-thru food 3 nights a week (or even 1 night a week) is normal / ok. It might be normal now, but normal doesn’t necessarily mean ok (look at the size of ‘normal’ kids & their ‘normal’ parents these days!)

Stress Factor:

Stress can start as young as the first year of life, when many bubs are placed in a daycare situation, away from their home & family for long hours each workday. An early return to work after childbirth doesn’t make much sense when you think about how nature has designed the baby-raising process to work. No matter what your opinion on women at work & stay at home dads, it’s pretty clear that the original design was for mums to be the primary carers early on, at least until 2 years of age (in countries where there is no pressure to wean early, babies normally still breastfeed until at least 2, giving them a great start nutritionally as far as gut health & immunity are concerned, as well as the stress-relieving aspects for both mum & bub). Many studies have shown that breastfeeding is protective not only against many childhood infections but also against obesity & metabolic syndrome.

What To Do: 

Might be worth staying home that little bit longer…it’s only a few years out of a lifetime. So worth it to pour your energy into building that strong emotional & nutritional foundation early on for your child. Remember home is only a low-stress environment if you’re a low stress kinda parent, you may have some work to do on yourself if that’s not the case! We don’t want to start daycare too early & train bubs to eat pre-packaged, processed ‘lunchbox food’ as a toddler, it’s bad enough that these are everywhere at school. And formula feeding should happen out of necessity when breastfeeding is impossible, not just for convenience / getting back to work quicker. Sorry again, getting our kids back to healthy = getting back to nature, & that means the first few years hanging mostly with mum. Mum will absolutely need a ‘village’ to support her through this time, so seek out fellow villagers. People who have similar values & similar aged kids to take turns with childcare, plus grandparents / aunties / uncles / neighbours etc.

Antibiotic Overprescription: 

Following on from the breastfeeding / daycare discussion – let’s look at antibiotic overuse (the 3 are all tightly connected & relevant to obesity). Australian kids get more unnecessary antibiotics than most in the world (second only to Italy apparently) – we’re chronic overprescribers! A big cause is pressure placed on Drs from parents needing to get back to work ASAP. Kids attending daycare from an early age are prescribed more courses of antibiotics each year than their stay-at-home friends (stressful environment, lack of regular breastmilk & the immune-challenging germ-fest maybe). These antibiotics can alter the child’s gut microbiome for 2 yrs or more. Antibiotic prescription in kids may have decreased over the past few years, due to increased awareness of the issues they can cause, & concerns about the looming antibiotic resistance crisis, but most kids in daycare (& many at home) will still be getting more than 1 course every 2 yrs, enough to potentially leave them with gut microbial & metabolic changes that predispose them to diabetes & obesity later in life. Livestock are given antibiotics to help them get heavier quicker, & it works the same with kids.

What To Do: 

Minimise infection risks in that crucial first few years by keeping them away from daycare environments while their gut-immune system is developing! Don’t rely on antibiotics as your cure-all for childhood infections, they’ll wreck your kid’s gut-immune function & they’ll be much more likely to get the next bug going around, etc etc. Educate yourself – see a naturopath or functional / integrative GP, read books about keeping kids healthy in the first place so that their immune system can deal with infections. A lot of this comes down to a good diet, exercise, sunshine, stress reduction & patience – just allowing time to rest, nurture & get back to health after an illness. If you’re dealing with a fat kid who’s been raised on antibiotics already, you’ll almost certainly need to do some pretty intensive gut work to decrease their candida overgrowth (candida – a yeast – tends to take over the gut when you kill the bacteria they compete with). People with a candida overgrowth will crave sugar like a demon (it’s actually the candida that makes you crave it – so you need to rebalance that gut so your good gut bugs crowd out the candida). Get help from a naturopath with this.

Lunch-box Treats:

Pre-packaged ‘lunchbox foods’ are a pet hate of mine, I wish we could just get rid of that whole aisle in the supermarket so kids would stop asking the parents who do make an effort for ‘normal food like everyone else gets in their lunchbox’! (By normal food they mean Nutella on white bread & chips). Fresh fruit & veg / leftover dinners can hardly compete with the brightly coloured & conveniently packaged processed, sugary, salty, artificial yumminess that is marketed to our poor addicted & obese kids.

What To Do:

Keep little kids at home eating healthy fresh ‘adult food’ as long as practical, this is the time you need to spend training their taste buds. Also, take them shopping regularly with you from a young age (without the iPad lol) & explain that some food companies only really care about making lots of money & that they don’t care if their products are making people sick. They trick us into buying their crappy ‘food’ by making it look & taste really good, but we need to be smarter than them or we will get really sick & fat, see – like that person (point out a really atrocious trolley full of processed crap with a morbidly obese person pushing it, should not be too hard to find in the average supermarket)!  Most of your shopping should be fresh fruit & veg, great to grow some yourself – esp snow peas, beans, cherry tomatoes, berries etc.  So exciting to watch them grow & great for little hands. Train your kids to eat good food & keep the treats away until you’ve got a healthy palette established. They need to know that their food choices can create their bodies, their energy & their feelings, & that their ‘bad bugs’ ask for the bad foods.

Sweet Drinks:

These are one of the biggest obesity contributors I feel. People don’t think of them as ‘food’ (calories) because they are liquids & so easy to consume alongside a meal. But they can turn a good meal into a nutritional nightmare. And they replace good calories with totally empty ones, zero nutrition & plenty of sweet poison. IF YOU DO ONE THING ONLY TO DECREASE YOUR CHILD’S CHANCES OF BECOMING AN OBESE OR DIABETIC ADULT, STOP THE SOFT DRINK.

What To Do:

Water water water. Fresh juices with veggies in them are fine, but better still smoothies, not juices so the fibre is still there. No bottled juices, no sweetened milk, no soft drink. Just flat out none when they’re really little – they don’t need it, you’ll just train their body to crave these & create a world of unhappiness for both of you. If you say no every time, they stop asking eventually (or they don’t start until much later). Tell Nannas not to give them crap early, plenty of time for that later when it’s literally everywhere, then you’ll probably need to create some ‘occaisions’ where you’ll say yes so they don’t develop a total complex. You need to loosen the rules as they get older & start to figure out they’ve been deprived of some of the ‘yummiest’ treats in the world all their young life! Soft drinks / juices should never have a permanent place on the shopping list / in the fridge / at the table – they are for parties & special occasions etc. Don’t have them at home just staring at everyone asking to be consumed, that’s how addictions start – with a few repeated doses. At parties & restaurants, you can ask for a mix of half lemonade & half sparkling mineral water / soda water (that way everyone is happy but you’ve halved the sugar intake). You can offer sparkling water with fresh lemon or lime at home in place of other ‘fizz’.

Cereal:

Another huge contributor to the childhood obesity epidemic. ‘But we only buy the healthy cereals’ I hear you say.  LOL!! You are deluding yourself if you think there are any healthy cereals. The ‘healthy cereals’ found on supermarket shelves, while lower in artificials & sugar than the ‘cereals-nobody-should-ever-buy-eat-or feed-to-their-kids’, are literally just processed lumps of carbs designed to be bathed in a soup of milk & usually topped with something else that’s also sweet. A massive insulin spike to start the day, a bowl full of nutritionally-lacking carbs with very little fat fibre & protein will mean a quick energy hit, then a dive that will mean they’ll crave something sweet again soon after breakfast.

What To Do:

Focus on including plenty of fat, fibre & protein for breakfast, so the kid’s blood glucose stays more level throughout the day, don’t keep smashing their straining pancreas with carbs.  Things like full-fat yoghurt, coconut yoghurt, natural protein powder etc can be added to porridge or smoothies, also use nuts & seeds, or try eggs, beans / lentils, check out our recipe page for yummy & fun breakfast ideas that contain loads of fat, fibre & protein nutrition. Even good quality sourdough wholegrain toast / or gluten-free if required, piled high with nourishing things like avocado, hummus, pesto, nut butter, sprouts, etc etc etc are a million miles ahead of a bowl of cereal for our poor little fat kids. A keto style approach may be worth looking into, also intermittent fasting (but get a professional to help you with these).

Poor Sleep:

Being so constantly connected to their devices & as a result of our too-busy, stressful lifestyles, our kids aren’t getting the sleep they need to maintain healthy metabolisms – especially our teens. Cortisol = hormonal metabolism wrecker, & poor sleep leads to higher cortisol. Studies on sleep-deprived people show that sleep is absolutely crucial to keeping us out of the diabetic / insulin resistant / metabolic syndrome state. Throw into the mix that many teens like to be out & about late at night socialising on weekends, possibly drinking a lot of caffeinated beverages, experimenting with drugs & alcohol…or maybe they’re really sporty & are up early for training every morning before school…either way, it’s highly likely there’s not enough sleep happening.

What To Do:

Set some rules around devices, it’s actually best that you pay for the phone & the data bill so that you have good reasons to be in control of its use, i.e. agree on a time before bed where there is no more device use (at least 1/2 an hr before bed). Devices shouldn’t be plugged in to charge overnight in bedrooms, make a designated spot for everyone to charge their phone at night (parents need to make rules for themselves here too to set a good example)! High adrenaline games are a no-no before bed too, no TV’s or gaming consoles in rooms either, or firm agreements around their use. If teens are anxious / stressed out – think about magnesium baths or supplementation (magnesium is a massively common deficiency & is also crucial for healthy blood sugar metabolism). Consider magnesium especially if your teen is heavily into sports also. There are herbs that can help with sleep & anxiety as well- passionflower is a fave of mine (ask in your local health store). Massage is super-beneficial for teens too, & can help lower cortisol levels & improve sleep, even just a foot rub or shoulder massage before bed.

I’ve tried everything! 

Don’t feel like it’s entirely your fault – as parents, we can only do the best we can with the information we have at the time. You get new info, you change tactics. Just don’t ignore new info when you have access to it, & keep looking for it.  The childhood obesity battle we can fight to a certain extent ourselves as parents, but it’s also got to be fought on a group level with the big food companies (who are massively to blame for this epidemic). We’re surrounded by ‘easy but not best’ options that they produce (to meet our demand, we have to take that responsibility) with regards to our diet & healthcare. These guys are pretty formidable adversaries for anyone to take on – but we can at least all give them less of our dollars each week!

If you’re a fat kid or you were & have now become a fat adult – don’t lose heart (or lose it at your parents), it’s obviously not just parents that are the issue, this is an epidemic with multiple causes. There’s so much new research & knowledge out there that can help you get your metabolism back to healthy (in case you feel like you’ve exhausted all your options). A lot of it now is pointing back to rehabilitating the damaged gut ecosystem. You can change your cravings, your metabolism, your mental / emotional state just by changing your gut bugs. And as always – we have to get back to nature, we’re so far removed from the way humans should be living & raising their kids, & not just with food.

Let me know if a specific ‘fatloss for kids’ e-book would be useful (I’ll write one), & I’m also interested in your own discoveries along the parenting/weight loss journey. Make a comment below or send me an email anytime.

Jeanie
jeanie@goodmix.com.au

Brad & Jeanie