Tackling Childhood Obesity in Merthyr Tydfil

Obesity is something that affects many people throughout South Wales, causing a range of physical and mental health issues, especially amongst children and young adults.

According to the latest figures, around 25% of children in Wales between 12-18 are overweight or obese.

Developing healthy habits and a positive relationship to food and exercise at an early age can help minimise the risk of your child becoming obese.

To help you and your family live a healthy and active life, we have put together some information on how obesity can affect your child’s physical and mental wellbeing, as well as tips on how best to give your child a healthy start in life.

The impact of childhood obesity on health

Many believe that obesity does not cause issues until later in life. However, obesity can negatively affect a child’s health from a young age in a variety of ways, including:

Breathing problems

Being overweight can increase the likelihood of your child developing asthma and sleep apnea, which can hinder their ability to live a healthy and active.

life. Breathing problems may also make it difficult for your child to engage in exercise, which could cause further weight gain and worsen their health.

Heightened blood pressure

Being overweight can also increase your child’s blood pressure. High blood pressure can directly increase the risk of heart attacks, heart disease, and strokes.

Type 2 diabetes

Being obese, or having an unhealthy diet, can cause a child to develop type 2 diabetes. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes include feeling lethargic, needing to wee a lot, and feeling dehydrated. Diabetes can also cause other conditions if left untreated, including heart disease.

What’s more, once diabetes has developed, it cannot be cured and is something that will have to be managed for the rest of your child’s life, not only will it limit the foods they can enjoy but they’ll also need to continuously monitor their blood sugar levels and, in some cases, take daily medication.

Anxiety, depression, and mental health

Children can suffer from mental health issues if they are obese, both directly and indirectly caused by excess weight. Unhealthy diets, for example, those high in sugar, can affect energy levels, making your child lethargic or even moody.

Being overweight can also affect a child’s self-image, and this reduced confidence could make it hard for them to socialise or live an active life. Being unable to partake in as many activities due to their weight can also make children feel left out or excluded by their peers.

Joint pain

Simple movements like walking can damage your child’s joints if they are overweight. Consistent damage from weight over an extended period can cause irreparable damage to the knees, hips, and spine.

Giving your child a healthy start in life

Giving your child the best start in life by leading a healthy and active lifestyle can help prevent childhood obesity and encourage them to continue a healthy lifestyle throughout adulthood. You can start by:

Providing a healthy relationship with food

Ensuring that your child enjoys a balanced diet from a young age will give them a healthy start in life. Weight is gained when more calories are eaten than used as excess calories are stored as body fat. Depending on their age and sex, children should be eating 1200-1800 calories per day. If you are in doubt about how many calories your child should consume, please visit the NHS website or ask your health visitor.

Fill your child’s plate with lots of fresh vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins such as chicken, fish or beans and pulses. Fibre-rich whole grains and lean proteins are not only packed full of goodness but will help your child stay fuller for longer.

When it comes to snack time, try clever swaps, such as swapping out processed and sugar-filled chocolate bars with homemade frozen yogurt for example. You can find a whole host of fun snack ideas here.

It is important for children to develop a positive relationship with food. In moderation, treats and snacks are a perfectly fine addition to an otherwise balanced diet. Overwhelming negative attitudes towards treats can actually be detrimental to your child’s health, both physically and mentally.

Increasing physical activity

Incorporating exercise into your family’s everyday life can help ensure that you and your family stay at a healthy weight whilst creating a positive attitude towards exercise. Going for lots of walks and enjoying the outdoors or doing activities like PE with Joe Wicks, for example, can help make exercise fun and less of a chore.

In addition to PE lessons in school, children should aim to have 60 minutes of moderate exercise per day.

This additional exercise could include:
  • Walking to and from school
  • Walking a dog
  • Family walks/adventures
  • Playing in the playground
  • Cycling
If your child shows a particular interest in an activity or sport, there are also classes that they can join, including:
  • Dance
  • Sports like football, netball, or tennis
  • Skating or rollerblading
  • Swimming

Talking to your children about what constitutes a healthy and balanced life in a simple way can help give them tools that will benefit them throughout life. Topics that you may want to cover with your child could include:

  • What exactly calories are
  • What different foods, vitamins, and minerals offer our bodies
  • What foods make us feel fuller
  • How sugar can affect our bodies
  • The positive effects of exercise

Consider exposing your child to new and interesting foods at an early age or encouraging them to participate in cooking meals. By making healthy foods accessible to them, they will be more likely to choose the healthy option over junk foods.

Support for parents, babies, and young children in Merthyr Tydfil

  • Would you like some support to give your child a healthy start?
  • Do you wish your child would eat more fruit and vegetables?
  • Would you like to reduce mealtime stress?

If you are a parent of a child that is younger than 5, you may benefit from HENRY. Henry is an 8-week program aimed at giving you tools and techniques to help you raise a healthy and happy child. Learn more about this program here.

If you would like to take part in Henry, you can email HENRY_CTM_PHW@wales.nhs.uk or call Shakira, the HENRY Programme Coordinator for Cwm Taf Morgannwg, on 07553 834 076.