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These food myths could be to blame for childhood obesity

Children become overweight and obese for a variety of reasons but often food myths contribute to excessive weight gain.

According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, childhood obesity is on the rise, with one in every six children being classified overweight. Obesity rates are on the rise, with twice as many children gaining weight as they did 30 years ago.

While many toddlers and young children have a little ‘puppy fat’, if your child’s weight continues to climb behind normal BMI for their age, it can have serious health consequences.

Overweight children are more likely to be overweight adults and develop chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, struggle to keep up with their peers throughout the day, have difficulties breathing at night, or complain of hip or knee discomfort.

If you’re not sure if your child is overweight, schedule an appointment with your doctor, who will plot her weight and height on a growth chart and compare it to other children of the same gender and age. It’s also crucial to evaluate your child’s diet and make sure you’re aware of these frequent dietary fallacies.

Common food myths that contribute to obesity in children


Myth: Starchy foods like pancakes, muffins, and crumpets are good breakfast options.

Fact: These are OK for a weekend treat, but unless you’re baking healthier versions, they’re not a good breakfast choice and could be making your child obese. This is because the store-bought varieties are often made with processed white flour, sugar, saturated fat, and preservatives, which can lead to weight gain, and even chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. Plus, they’re almost entirely stripped of fibre, which could cause constipation.

Myth: Restaurant food is healthy, so long as my child orders off the kiddies’ menu.

Fact: Most restaurants offer foods that they think children will find appealing and are not necessarily the healthiest option. Have you ever seen carrot sticks, healthy soups, or salads on a kiddies’ menu? Normally, you’ll find deep-fried foods, such as fried chicken or chips, processed meat including sausages as well as white, sugary carbs such as white bread or pizza loaded with fatty cheese. Numerous studies have shown that these types of convenience foods are the biggest culprits when it comes to rising obesity rates. Limit the amount of times you order kiddies’ meals and be aware of what’s on the menu.

Myth: Fruit juice is a healthy alternative to whole fruits for children.

Fact: Unless it’s freshly squeezed and diluted with water, fruit juice may not be that healthy as it can be loaded with sugar and stripped of the fibre that comes with eating the actual fruit. Your little one should only drink water, milk (once or twice a day), or rooibos tea, advises Meg Faure, occupational therapist and author of Feeding Sense. The aim is to encourage drinking water as much as possible, so keep a filled water bottle on offer at all times.

Myth: My child needs animal protein at every meal.

Fact: Protein is essential for healthy growth and development, but Patrick Holford, nutritionist and author of Optimum Nutrition Before, During and After Pregnancy, believes you don’t have to give your child lots of cheese, meat, and milk (over the age of one) at every meal. “Although animal produce is the primary type of protein in a typical Western diet, gram for gram it’s only a marginally better source than nuts and seeds, quinoa, or pulses such as lentils mixed with brown rice,” he says. Processed animal meats such as deli meats, yellow cheese, and chicken nuggets are often loaded with unhealthy saturated fats, which further contribute to obesity. Consider feeding your little one more fish – particularly white fish such as hake, and oily fish rich in omega-3 – and experiment with vegetarian sources of protein, such as tofu.

Myth: Frozen yoghurt and frozen lollies are healthy dessert options.

Fact: Although they’re marginally better than ice cream, frozen yoghurt and milkshakes can contain high amounts of sugar and could be making your child obese. For instance, a large cup of frozen yoghurt is about 400 calories, while a standard McDonald’s Vanilla Shake with syrup contains a whopping 74g of sugar and is about 600 calories. Children aged two to eight shouldn’t have more than three to four teaspoons of sugar a day, which is only 15-20g in total, according to recent guidelines issued by the American Heart Association.

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