More than children are overweight or obese when they start primary school, rising to one in three by the time they start secondary school.
Which children are most at risk?
“Children from the most deprived areas of England are more than twice as likely to be obese as those from the least deprived areas”, explains Dr Steenson. “For those on the lowest incomes, a healthy diet can cost almost three-quarters of their disposable income, and less healthy foods tend to be cheaper. The environment in more deprived areas can also mean higher exposure to fast food outlets and fewer opportunities to be active.”
How to encourage kids to eat healthy food
1. Get them to play with food when young
The Flavour School encourages primary school children to try fruit and veg by shifting the focus from trying something new, which they’re suspicious of, to it being part of a wider experience.
2. Introduce new foods away from the dinner table
Rather than always spending ages in the kitchen on a new recipe, only for your child to turn his or her nose up at it, try to give a little taste of something every now and then – a new veg, or perhaps a segment of a fruit they haven’t tasted before.
3. Check portion sizes
Food labelling gives information about the nutritional quality of your food, but it’s not always available in those fast-food outlets near schools. She suggests parents and children learn to be mindful of what a portion size looks like.
4. Make homemade versions of takeaways
If you or your child has a taste for takeaways, look for recipe swaps. Friday night, have the same food but homemade with adapted ingredients. By doing this you will re-programme what ‘comfort food’ means to your child.
Lots of us associate junk food brands with comforting childhood memories, but we need to try and break that association for the next generation.
5. Get children involved in cooking
Encourage children to cook with you.
6. Speak to the school
If you open your child’s bag at the end of the school day and see the healthy lunch you made still in pristine condition, alongside empty crisp packets, chocolate bar and sweet wrappers, you might ask where your child is getting the junk from. If you don’t believe it’s being bought outside of school, Whittaker suggests you consider contacting the school.
7. Leave home with a full stomach
Make sure your teenager has something to eat before he or she goes out.
8. Get everyone on board
It’s important that parents act as role models when it comes to diet and cooking.
9. Give yourself a break
Even when you’re doing everything you can do to help, it can be difficult. The key is to take a deep breath, don’t give up, and accept there are lots of people in the same position.