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Are you turning your kids into overweight adults?

Summer vacation is a time of excess for many – temptation is abundant, from the enticing sizzle of the grill to the siren song of the ice cream van, and perhaps unsurprisingly, juvenile obesity is on the rise, according to the National Institute for Health and Welfare. However, the good news is that seasonal feasting doesn’t have to mean a glut of guilty conscience, provided your family's everyday habits are in good shape.

Lasten jalkoja kiipeilytelineellä.
Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Although a doctor may grant absolution from the sin of over-indulging your kids on holiday, childhood obesity is a growing problem in Finland. 

The most recent data from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) shows that more than 10 percent of Finnish girls are overweight, while over one in five Finnish boys are tipping the scales firmly in the wrong direction.

Childhood obesity cannot be measured according to the basic adult metric, the BMI or Body Mass Index. However, child health clinics conduct obesity screening designed to identify children who are at risk of becoming overweight adults.

Girth or growth?

Identifying future problems may not always be as easy as noting that a child has started looking a little on the chubby side.

"Parents may be flummoxed by growth curves at children’s clinics,” says pediatrician Jarmo Salo. ”For example, a five year old child who is identified as being overweight may not necessarily seem rotund. If his or her weight continues to grow at the same rate as an adult, he or she will become overweight.”

Many a parent tells their offspring to finish their plate, and if a child appears to have lost their appetite, parents get worried. According to Salo, this is perfectly understandable.

"A nursing mother worries about the undernourishment of her baby, as her instincts are to ensure the baby’s well-being and thus, its nutrition. As a child grows, they begin to self-determine their own needs,” Salo says.

Making healthier choices

Yet, adult instinct doesn’t provide guidance on food quality or quantity, the expert adds, stressing that the right choices in terms of nutrition, physical activity and rest are important.

"These are the choices that families can make, but society must support them by making things easy and enjoyable,” Salo claims.

If your child is overweight, you should face the issue head on and seek help. Even the school nurse's office can give assistance for school aged kids. However, a solution could be even more simple than that.

"Sometimes it’s sufficient to simply look at daily family life. Then the "wrong" to which you may have been blind may come to light. The mere fact that food is always eaten at the dining table can help weight control by keeping a child from snacking,” the pediatrician advises.

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