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In a world with convenience foods and video games, children are becoming more sedentary and adopting poor eating habits. In 2012, 300,000 (one in ten) Irish children aged 5-12 were reported to be obese. A recent national study of Ireland also startlingly found that 19% of three year olds are overweight.
As obesity occurs when there is an imbalance between energy intake (food) and energy output (activity) it is fundamental that parents are aware of their child’s eating and exercise habits and promote the mantra “eat well, get active”.
Parents must be vigilant as to their child’s eating patterns as children can use food to soothe or suppress their feelings. Over eating can also be for attention or to cope with bullying or peer pressure. It is therefore vital that children are educated correctly about nutrition and exercise to form a healthy body image.
School age is the perfect time to teach children the importance of leading a healthy life style as they begin to make their own choices, attend social gatherings and develop interest in sports and hobbies.
In general, a child’s diet should be high in fibre, low in sugar and include plenty of fruit and vegetables. Fibre helps children feel fuller for longer, while fruit and vegetable provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
As for exercise, children under five who can walk on their own should be getting up to 3 hours of exercise a day, including walking about the house, playing and outdoor activity. Children over five should be doing one hour of physical activity a day, in particular aerobic activity such as running, brisk walking and sport.
It is important for children to stay hydrated, in particular when exercising, and they should be drinking a minimum of 6 glasses of water a day.
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