Jane Devine: The epidemic of fat kids must mean parents are at fault
DO YOU remember running because you felt like it? Maybe when you were five or six? Maybe inappropriately, like through your classroom, or up the aisle in a church? I remember barely being able to keep still when I was wee, with my perpetual motion often being the subject of parents’ evening interviews.
My children and many of their friends are like that now – always on the go. So, what I don’t understand is why so many children are overweight.
It is natural for children to be energetic, yet there are noticeably more fat children around. The research and the headlines tell us it is so, but when you look around any primary school playground, you realise it really is true. I find that depressing and frustrating because it is absolutely avoidable. Unless there is a medical reason for it, there is no need for a child to be fat.
When children are young, parents influence and control almost everything they do and especially what they eat and how much exercise they take. And it is when children are young that lessons and habits are learned for life. Parents who allow their children to become overweight are setting their kids up for a lifetime of ill-health. Not only do overweight children face an increased risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, research carried out recently at the University of North Carolina (as reported in The Scotsman on 20 September) suggests that they also risk being overweight throughout their life.
It’s not just that, though. Parents who allow their children to become overweight are setting them up for a lifetime of believing exercise is a chore when it should be something they do without thinking about it.
One of the most lovely things to see is kids running around and playing outside, being energetic because they want to and just being kids. Most parents will encourage this, even if it is for the more selfish and pragmatic reasons of ensuring the kids eat their food without fuss and sleep past 6am. It doesn’t always take a huge amount of effort: put most young children in an open space and they will run, but it does require parents to allow it and encourage it and, in most cases, to be there.
Parents who don’t routinely do this come up with a variety of excuses, including the classic that kids can’t play outside any more because the streets aren’t safe. But I don’t buy that. There are many opportunities for children to exercise: we have hundreds of play parks, indoor play centres and pools; endless miles of cycle paths and initiatives and schemes to get youngsters involved in sport. If you don’t think kids are safe at the park, take them; if you can’t afford to take them swimming, go for a walk.
Being energetic is something programmed in to children. As parents, all we need to do is to allow it and not stifle it. Our attitude makes the biggest difference.
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