OBESITY IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
Our early childhood series has been covering the importance of good nutrition for your baby’s brain growth and development, starting with the magic of mum’s breastmilk! We have explained why babies up to 6 months of age should ONLY be given breastmilk, and then how to ensure you give your little one a healthy, nutritious diet from 6 months so his or her brain and body can grow in the best way possible. Remember – with proper nutrition you can ‘feed your child clever!’
Introducing new and different healthy, nutritious foods to your baby and young children is very important. And the fresher the better! Fresh food is much better for baby (and all other members of the family!) than baby food pre-prepared and sold in containers in shops. Do grow your own vegetables if you can. In this way you can set your children up for healthy lifestyles and well-functioning brains! That is also why it is so important to take your young child regularly to the clinic for growth monitoring. The health staff will weigh your child and measure his or her length/height and plot these on the graphs in your child’s Road to Health Booklet. This will tell them, and you, if your child is growing well.
While we know that malnutrition, under-nutrition and poor growth in babies and young children is a very serious problem in South Africa, we are also seeing an increase in obesity or over-weight children. Obesity or over-weight is also a health problem as this too indicates poor or incorrect nutrition. Obesity or over-weight can be caused when children are fed ‘empty’ foods – foods like sweets, biscuits, cakes, fried hamburgers and chips and sweet fizzy drinks that are full of sugar. These foods fill children up but provide little or no nutrition.
A nutritious diet will include plenty of protein (meat, fish, chicken, eggs, liver, legumes); whole grains (whole-wheat bread, brown rice); starches (potatoes, sweet potato); vegetables (pumpkin, butternut, spinach, morogo, imifino, cabbage, kale, beans); fruits (apples, pawpaw, mango, banana, oranges) and dairy products (full cream milk, yoghurt, maas, cheese). A basic portion size for children up to age 5 is 1 tablespoon of a food item per year age of child – so, for example, a 3 year old would get 3 tablespoons full of mash potato and 3 tablespoons full of spinach. Don’t force your child to finish everything on her plate. Let his appetite guide him.
Young children need a nutritious diet, plenty of clean water to drink, enough sleep and lots of exercise as they play climbing trees or jungle gyms, jumping rope, riding bikes and running around playing games with other children.
Obesity or over-weight in children can lead to a life time of ill health as it puts children at greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, asthma and cancer. It also has psychological effects and can lead to low self-esteem, poor body image and depression. If you are worried that your child is over-weight, do seek help from health staff. It is much easier to get it right in early childhood and set your child on the path to success.
LOVE, PLAY TALK
Learn more about what you can do to change your child’s future by listening weekly to LOVE, PLAY TALK, the radio programme on Nkomazi FM aired EVERY Thursday from 11 to 11.30am and brought to you by Ilifa Labantwana and RCL FOODS. Each week Nkomazi FM hosts a guest speaker to deal with a different topic to support you, the parent of a young child, give your child the best start in life. The LOVE, PLAY, TALK radio programme is part of the RCL FOODS sponsored LEAVE NO YOUNG CHILD BEHIND early childhood development initiative in Nkomazi Wards 16 and 19 that aims to ensure every young child in these wards has access to improved quality of essential services so that they get the very best start in life. And you, the parent, have a critically important role to play!
EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT SPECIALIST