WDHB's head dietitian welcomes Childhood Obesity Strategy
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9 November 2015
 
Spotless dietetic service manager for Whanganui and MidCentral District Health Boards Felicity Spencer has welcomed the Childhood Obesity Plan released by the Government to address New Zealand’s growing number of obese children.
 
“I particularly like the fact the plan brings together initiatives across government agencies, the private sector, communities, schools, families and whānau,” Mrs Spencer says. “As a country we need to acknowledge we don’t have a simple, quick fix answer. It’s a complex issue that involves the whole community.
 
“As we tackle this epidemic we need to empower parents and caregivers rather than blame them. This might include having health professionals work with families to help them adopt good nutrition and exercise for themselves and their family members.
 
“It might also include encouraging families to make healthy choices that are accessible, available and affordable.  Supporting this means looking at how we market, advertise and label food.”
 
Mrs Spencer is encouraged by the number of no-cost services that are available to help eligible families adopt healthy eating and lifestyle. She points to Active Families which is part of the green prescription programme. GPs can refer an overweight child to Active Families which supports and encourages a child and his or her family to enjoy activities involving movement. A dietitian based with the Whanganui Regional Health Network might also work with the family to provide dietary advice.
 
“What’s worrying is that data collected shows that only a third of families whose children fall into the obese category take up the offer of a referral for support,” Mrs Spencer says. “Interestingly, a study done in the UK shows that a third of families under-estimate the weight of their children so clearly, parents don’t always accept that their child is overweight.
 
“I believe we need good role models to help children develop healthy eating and exercise habits. By this I mean parents, wider family members, health professionals, teachers and anyone else who influences children need to understand that children learn by watching those around them.”
 
To encourage healthy eating from a young age, Mrs Spencer says when children between 18 months and three years of age start refusing to eat foods such as vegetables, her advice is to keep offering small amounts until they eventually start eating them again.
 
Mrs Spencer is also a strong believer in the need for families to eat dinner together around a table without the television on. She says it’s a good opportunity for parents to role model and for the family to connect at the end of the day.
 
“In the meantime I urge the parents of children offered a referral to a health professional to take up the offer. There’s no cost and it can change a child’s life,” Felicity says. “Obese children tend to become obese adults which brings a raft of problems for them,” Felicity says.
 
  • According to the New Zealand Health Strategy released this week for consultation, 10 percent of New Zealand children as a whole, and 25 percent of Pacific children are obese.