By HELEN VIDGEN
As a dietitian and nutritionist for more than 15 years, the most common emotion I encounter in parents is guilt. And it’s little wonder – if you’re an Australian parent, you have a one-in-four chance of raising a child outside the healthy weight range.
The latest figures show that 25.1% of Australian kids aged 2-17 years are overweight or obese. The biggest “growth” in this statistic is in the obese category. That means that more children who were overweight are now obese, and those who were obese children are now more obese.
So why is this happening? It’s not that we’ve all suddenly become dodgy parents. Instead, the odds are increasingly stacked against us as parents trying to do the right thing by our kids.
Would you like fries with that?
Researchers, including the team I work with, describe the society we live in as “obesogenic”. That means that our environment makes it much easier to gain weight than stay healthy.
Unhealthy food is cheaper and more easily available than healthy food, leisure activities are increasingly about sitting in front of a screen, and our towns and cities are built more for cars than for pedestrians or cyclists.
You only have to look at the sponsorship at a sporting club sign-on day to see how directly junk food companies market to children. My 10-year-old daughter gets a McDonalds voucher with each of her swimming certificates. Those are just a few examples of many small things that add up to make it harder to keep kids within a healthy weight range.
How do I know if my child’s a healthy weight?
For children, healthy weight is defined as being below the 85th percentile for body mass index (BMI) for age. BMI for children is calculated the same way as it is for adults: weight (measured in kilograms) divided by height squared (measured in metres).
For example, let’s take a nine-year-old girl, who weighs 33kg and is 1.3m tall. The calculation is 33 divided by 1.69 (1.3 x 1.3 = 1.69). That equals 19.52. For a girl aged nine, that’s considered overweight.
For adults, there are set cut-offs for a healthy or unhealthy BMI. But for children, the bands or percentiles change according to age to account for growing bodies.
In most Australian states, those BMI charts would be in the Personal Health Record book you get when your child is born. (You can also calculate your child’s BMI based on their gender, age, height and weight here.