Skip the body weight charts for kids...head straight to the balanced healthy diet!
For adults, body weight charts can be a trap, for children they can be diabolical. Emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of education, of guiding them into understanding the advantages of a balanced healthy diet, rather than worrying about whether they fit into a set of numbers.
For children, are body weight charts the answer?
Children's bodies change dramatically. They spread, then they shoot up. They eat like horses one day, and barely touch anything for three! They say they're starving, but they'll only eat chips, biscuits...and we get so worried they'll starve that we, as parents, give in.
The difficulty with body weight charts, is that while as an adult female, I know my weight can fluctuate a few kilograms on some days...at least my height is constant, and my internal organs are not trying to still grow, neither is my brain or my skeleton...it's just trying to maintain what's there.
For children though, they are still growing. They all grow at different rates at different times, and in different ways. To say that a ten year old should weigh between this and that seems ludicrous!
Far better that as parents and role models we concentrate on the importance of education, helping them understand about health and food (without lecturing...guaranteed to turn them right off), and practice (for ourselves and them) role modeling a balanced healthy diet and moving.
Using body weight charts to determine if a child is overweight.
One of reasons it seems that there's been greater attention to body weight charts for kids, is because we're having much more visual difficulty in determining whether they're overweight or not.
Once upon a time, it was easy to see which child in the playground was a little overweight. Nowadays the percentage of overweight kids is so high, that we notice those that are obese, but those that are slightly overweight look normal...because both children and adults are heavier now than they were 20 years ago...it's crept up on you.
Does using body weight charts then provide the answer? I don't think so...the variables are too great. Each adult burns and stores fat differently, and the variables for determining weight to height ratio are impossible to calculate. Trying to do this for children seems destined for disaster.
What to do instead...
Look at your child. Once upon a time, my son would start to look chunky, and I'd think, okay, what's he been eating? Why is he spreading out? Where did that spare tyre come from? I'd notice he was eating a lot, so I'd watch...then one day his eating would so down, and a few weeks later I'd notice we wasn't so chubby...and that his pants were all of a sudden up around his ankles!
This was how he grew...out, then up....out, then up. My daughter doesn't do this, you just get up one morning and find her pants around her ankles, or the hem of her school dress much closer to her bottom! But she doesn't go out.
It's been only in the last year or so that I';ve noticed that my son now, has stayed out, he's sti8ll growing up, but he's not leaning out at all.
I've also noticed that he his appetite for savoury foods, and seconds at dinner has increased, but that he's not eating much fruit and vegetables.
It's not that his diet is particularly unhealthy, but he is filling up on carbohydrates and protein. Lean ham, cheese, bread (multigrain and wholemeal, but bread). So, I've started taking note of what he eats more closely. 'Mum, can I have a ham sandwich?', 'What have you eaten since you got home?' asks I (although I already know), 'Oh, just some cheese, on a rice thin, and some nuts,'
Now, that's all good, but I also know he didn't eat any of the fruit I gave him in his lunch box: 'Yep, you can have something to eat...fruit or vegetable? There's passion fruit, kiwi fruit, apples, bananas, carrots, cucumber, capsicum'....inevitably..'But I don't want those, I want some ham'. 'Nope', says I, 'then you can wait for diner.'
Ten year old stomps off, and I keep my eye on the fridge to make sure he's not cruising around it, hoping I'm not watching.
So, I've started back chopping up a big plate of fruit as soon as the kids walk in the door, I make sure there's something on there that they'll all like...watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, kiwi fruit, come cucumber...so on. And he's so hungry when he gets home from school, and it's all ready for him...he eats! Then if he's still hungry he can have some protein or some carbohydrates.
That's it. I don't need a body weight chart for children to tell me that my son is eating good food...but that he's eating too much of the high energy stuff, for the amount of exercise he's doing.
What he needs is some quiet reinforcement to fill the gaps...and the bottom line is, if when he says he's not hungry for fruit, but he'll eat something else, and I say that we'll go out and play soccer...we can play for an hour, and he won't mention hunger once!
Reinforcing the notion of a balanced healthy diet...
Getting them to think about whether they're actually hungry or not, and upping the physical activity is far better than using body weight charts for our kids, and then trying to restrict their calories accordingly.
When my son is having a growth spurt, he'll eat anything...fruit, vegetables, he'll settle for anything...and when he's that hungry a little extra ham, cheese and bread is okay.
But if we start becoming obsessed with whether our children fit into a set of numbers or not, we're not doing them any favours. We're not role modeling or teaching them about a balanced healthy diet, and a balanced healthy life...we're setting them up to be ruled by charts, rather than what their body tells them.
If you can distract a child from food for an hour, and when they come inside they don't immediately scream at you in hunger...they're not hungry!
We need to pay attention to our particular child, look at them! Look at what they're eating! Take responsibility for our part in what we put in our houses, fridges and pantries, and ultimately in their mouths. Role modeling a balanced healthy diet for ourselves, and for them, explaining, when necessary, why and what we're doing, we're setting our kids up for good health for the rest of their lives.
Yes, they may fall over a bit, but they'll always have the background and framework to fall back on. Getting them to conform to a set of numbers is not an effective or healthy way to deal with the obesity issue. Instead help them learn to listen to their bodies, to enjoy and eat healthy, balanced foods that feed and nourish their bodies, and hepl them see that moving and living an active lifestyle is not only necessary...it's downright fun...and leave the body weight charts to those of us that need them to help us along, and those of us that understand that they're very inaccurate, and only a guideline.
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