According to a study released by The Lancet, a fifth of boys and a quarter of girls in South Africa are overweight or obese. If this continues the number of overweight or obese children in South Africa will increase to 70 million by 2025.
Although child obesity has become a cause for concern all around the world, South Africa is no exception. In a country where issues to do with underweight and lack of growth is so prevalent, it seems ironic that we now have such a high obesity-rate in South Africa.
Read more: The other side of the obesity story
The obesity epidemic is accelerating, even in babies and toddlers. Whilst some believe that obesity might be tougher to tackle than for others, due to contributing factors such as genetics and hormones, there are still ways for a parent to play a part in the shaping of a child’s relationship with food and health.
Sleekgeek is an online, community-based project, started by Elan Lohmann, after he turned his life around at 36 by implementing a healthy eating plan and sticking to his exercise routine.
Through social media he shared his personal journey towards a new, improved lifestyle and inspired thousands of other men and women looking for change.
With the rise in popularity, parents have now started involving their children in their healthy eating-plans and work-out routines. Whilst SleekGeek is largely community run, it also holds the “SleekGeek Transformation Challenges” to give members an opportunity to enter the eight week programmes. While the challenges are not yet open to children under the age of eighteen, some SleekGeek parents are involving the whole family in their lifestyle changes and influencing their kids to follow a healthy way of life.
We chatted to Elan to find out how parents and kids can get involved and what exactly it entails.
Childhood obesity rates have tripled in the last three years. What is your opinion on the rise in childhood obesity in South Africa? Why do you think this is happening?
Kids are eating too much junk and not getting enough nutrients and movement. It is that simple really.
I don't need stats, I just have to walk around a mall on the weekend to see what a massive issue we have in society. I feel for these kids who are starting out with a diminished quality of life.
It is very sad but I think lack of education on the part of themselves, schools and parents are to blame.
Obesity is on the rise world-wide for all age groups, with kids being probably the biggest casualties. They are heavily influenced by what their parents and their peers do. Monkey see monkey do. A lot of our obesity problems can be boiled down to busy lives and the need for convenience. Less homemade healthy meals are being made, less people know how to cook, more people are resorting to ready-made meals and food-products, which are packed with tons of bad stuff. Not enough people are eating real food regularly. (Take their 30 Day REBOOT Real Food Challenge. It is 100% free www.sleekgeek.co.za/reboot)
Parents and schools need to address this issue as a potential future crisis.
What would you consider a healthy weight for kids between 7 and 12 years old?
Ask any dietitian about healthy weight and they will immediately pull out their Body Mass Index (BMI) chart. BMI is a value derived from the weight and height of a person and then compares that value to the average so that they can be categorized as underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. The problem with BMI is that it is designed for population studies and large groups of people, not individuals. It is more important to look at factors such as body fat percentage and lean muscle mass.
So I am not going to give out a number. This is something we intuitively know. Does your child look like they are a healthy, reasonable weight or not? Health is also about how one feels and most importantly how one functions. If your child looks fine but is constantly plagued with health issues I believe the first place to look is nutrition.
What can parents do at home to encourage their kids to stay active and follow a healthy lifestyle?
Leading by example is the key. Your kids will do what you do, not what you say. If parents are active and eat healthily at home and practice healthy habits they are far more empowered to transfer this onto their kids. The first step is for parents to educate themselves and take the steps. Incorporate health and physical activity as often as possible in daily life. Take the family for a park-run on a Saturday morning. It is free and you can walk. Try to get outdoors as a family as often as possible.
You cannot tell your kids to get active if you are not willing to get off the couch. You cannot expect your kids not to gorge themselves on pizza if this is what you do. You cannot control all circumstances your kids will experience, but you can control what happens in your home.
Make it fun and not a chore or punishment. Support them in their choice of extracurricular sport.
Is dieting for kids, okay? What sort of eating plan would you recommend to overweight kids?
This is a very sensitive topic because the last thing you want to do is destroy a young person’s relationship with food or their self-worth. It can be quite a minefield. You also don’t want your kid to feel like they are bad or worthless because they are overweight, so I think whatever you do, tread lightly.
I am aware of some great success stories and I also know of people who have suffered because of being put on diets. If you go this route I would work with a professional with a good track record.
I believe the best thing is to talk about getting healthy and not about weight and educating on why certain things like bread are bad and why vegetables are good for example. I do not think anyone should “diet”. Just eat real home cooked food in sensible portions and cut out all the obvious junk like fizzy drinks etc and the rest will follow. Encourage healthy habits and results will follow.
Kids should be taught proactive, healthy, lifestyle habits that will lead them to a healthy life rather than encouraged to look for quick fixes or focus for a short and concentrated period of time on losing a specific amount of weight.
To what extent does exercise play a role in weight-loss?
Exercise is beneficial on a range of levels and I encourage everyone to be active, but the results and greatest health benefits reside in nutrition. I consider exercise a bonus and solid nutrition built around real food is the baseline for health.
What could prevent a child from losing weight?
If a person is eating well and exercising and losing weight there are a range of reasons to explore. Things like digestive systems not working correctly. In adults it is often related to hormones and metabolic damage but in this case working with a professional is the best course.
Can kids participate in any of the Sleekgeek challenges and programmes? What are some of the Sleekgeek challenges the kids can enter?
At this stage our body transformation challenge is only open to over 18’s because we do not feel it appropriate for kids to worry about these things.
It is on our to-do list to develop a guide and possibly workshops to assist parents in managing the health of their children.
At this stage I would suggest that the whole family do a REBOOT as a team thing. See www.sleekgeek.co.za/reboot for details. It is 30 days of eating real food. If you think as a parent it is too stringent for the kids then start with the adults in the house and make sure you keep it clean in the home.
Why not encourage your child to participate in a healthy lifestyle with you?
Do you influence the rest of your family when you're following an exercise/eating plan?