Bring your overweight children to slimming classes, dieting parents told

·4-min read
Childhood health and obesity - Rawpixel Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo
Childhood health and obesity - Rawpixel Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

Dieters who go to slimming classes should be encouraged to sign up overweight children to help them lose weight, experts have said.

A study of Slimming World members found that most of those who were worried about overweight children were keen for diet clubs to point them to similar help for their children.

Health chiefs said that parents taking action to improve their own diet should “get their kids involved” and overhaul eating habits for the whole family.

Britain’s obesity epidemic means that four in 10 children are now overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.

The proportion of five-year-olds who are obese has shot up by 45 per cent in a year.

The research presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Maastricht, the Netherlands, found that most parents attending commercial weight management programmes would be happy for their child, if overweight, to also receive support to reach a healthier weight.

A number of councils in England run free weight management programmes for children, who can be referred by GPs and schools. However, the initiatives struggle to recruit children, and are not available in all parts of England.

Obesity rates among children

Dr Ruth Mears, the lead researcher from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care, said such efforts could help to tackle weight problems, which often run in families.

“We felt that the point at which a parent decides to take steps to reach a healthier weight for themselves might represent a good opportunity to address weight concerns in any other members of the family,” she said.

Dr Mears called for an expansion in a “whole family approach,” saying that the current provision was “patchy”.

“If the whole family make changes together to reach or maintain a healthier weight, this may be more effective than one family member tackling their weight alone,” she added.

As part of the study, researchers ran an online survey for Slimming World members. Adult members could take part if they had a child aged 5 to 11, regardless of whether they had concerns about the child’s weight. The 396 adults, most of whom were female, had an average BMI of 35 on joining Slimming World. The threshold for obesity is 30.

More than a third of those polled, 34 per cent, were worried that one or more of their children were overweight or obese.

Of those, the majority, 78 per cent, said they would like to receive support to help their child reach a healthier weight, with 98 per cent adding that they would be happy for Slimming World to point them to such help, such as the council-run programmes.

The survey also explored whether the changes a parent was making to their diet and lifestyle were trickling down to the whole family.

Almost half of parents, 48 per cent, said that one or more of their children had a healthier diet since they had started to address their own weight. More than a quarter of parents, 27 per cent, stated one or more of their children was doing more exercise.

Prof Stephen Powis, the national medical director for NHS England, said: “This important research confirms what we know – that health eating tips and advice on how to be more active are vital stepping stones in helping the whole family lose weight and live healthier lives.

“Through our world-leading diabetes prevention programme and new digital weight management programmes, the NHS is equipping hundreds of thousands of adults every year with the skills and advice to help them lose weight and live healthier lives.

“And with the number of overweight primary school children at record levels, we would encourage parents to get their kids involved, so they can transform not just their own lives, but that of their children as well.”

Family-focused approach to weight loss

Louise Gittins, the vice-chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Childhood obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges we face, made all the more difficult by the impact of the pandemic on children’s activities and lifestyles.

“Evidence suggests that family-focused approaches to obesity management can be effective when attitudes towards diet and physical activity are addressed simultaneously amongst both parents and children.

“Using existing adult-focused weight loss services to signpost parents to relevant services dedicated to supporting children and young people can be a useful tool in a range of resources that local authorities can deploy to effectively tackle this issue.”

Carolyn Pallister, the nutrition, research and health policy manager at Slimming World, said: “This study supports Slimming World’s data which show that our members pass on their newly formed healthier habits and influence their families.”

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