Give your child a slim chance in the fight against obesity

Helen O'Callaghan says weighing scales should be used regularly

BUY weighing scales for your child. This is Kildare GP Dr Brendan O’Shea’s recommendation for reversing the obesity statistics — one in four children in Ireland is overweight or obese.

Parents may worry that weighing their children could make them anxious about their weight or preoccupied with body image. But Dr O’Shea, lecturer in the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, in Trinity College Dublin, cites a recent study by 11 GPs in 10 general practices in Leinster: 500 children, aged five to 12, were weighed.

“The person doing the weighing was the family doctor, who’d have seen the child on many occasions,”says Dr O’Shea. There was a strong sense of collaboration between parent, child and doctor — the weighing was part of a routine visit to the surgery by parents and children.

“After the consultation, we asked parents how they found it. ‘How did the child find it? Was it useful?’ Almost 99% of parents said it was useful. A small proportion of children were reported to be made angry, anxious, or upset by it — but three out of four obese children were not reported to have felt these emotions.

“And all of the five- and six-year-old children were indicated by their parents to have been either happy, pleased, or relieved to have their weight checked. I see it as a very important measurement that can be quickly and easily done in a way that’s highly acceptable,” says Dr O’Shea.

Last month, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s (RCPI) Policy Group on Obesity called for a ban on marketing of sugar-sweetened drinks to children, because these are a major driver of childhood weight. The group cites Coca-cola’s ‘share a coke’ campaign as an example of slick and irresponsible advertising to children.

As a GP, Dr O’Shea sees parents pulled in many directions. “They’re highly conscientious and stressed, but they’re distracted by [worries about] finances and by a rapidly evolving electronic media”. This, he says, opens the way to high-volume, sophisticated advertising of unsafe foods.

“Our children are incessantly pedalled foods that are fatted, sugared and salted, to an extent that makes these food products hugely hazardous and toxic to them.”

With nine-tenths of the health budget spent on treating patients with established diseases, he says channelling just three-tenths into disease prevention would work wonders. “It would give GPs and practice nurses the time to talk to parents, to check children’s weight, and to identify the one in four families where over-weight is a serious emerging issue.”

Top tips

* Be optimistic – decide you’re going to help your child achieve his best weight.

* Find out if your child is a good weight – visit your GP.

* Start the campaign for everybody in the family.

* Visit  for creative, affordable meal ideas.

* Make shopping list and stick to it.


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