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Each child is different, right? But when does "different" become "abnormal"? Find out if your child is just going through the motions or if something really is wrong. By Liezl Heidtmann
WORRY 1: Is he overweight? As many as 1 in 5 South Africa children are either overweight or obese, with 20% of children under the age of 6 being overweight. If your child is enjoying junk food and spending most of his time in front of the television or playing computer games, you may have reason for concern.
According to research it seems like demographics play a role in childhood obesity. Recently, Professor Vicki Lambert of UCT's Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sport Medicine investigated health and fitness in Western Cape adolescents. She discovered that black and coloured children were on average significantly shorter than their white counterparts and that black girls were at the greatest risk of obesity. If you notice that your child is shorter and fatter than his counterparts, you may have to start looking at his diet. Another clue is that even if your child is a bit chubby, he shouldn't have rolls of flab on his arms, back and tummy.
According to the World Health Organisation, 70% of overweight children become overweight adults.The sooner you address the problem, the better. According to dietician, Anika Barnard overweight and obesity in early childhood can lead to an increase in serious illnesses, including heart disease and cancer, later in life.
Weigh-Less has healthy lifestyle programmes suitable for children. Speak to group leader to find out whether your child is overweight and what you can do about it.
WORRY 2: Is she only a picky eater or is she suffering from an eating disorder? If your child is avoiding food she previously enjoyed, you may be wondering if she's only a picky eater or if a more serious reason is behind the sudden change. According to eating disorder expert, Kenneth Weiner, it's best to look at the bigger picture to determine if there is a reason to be worried. Signs that she may be suffering from an eating disorder include: Recent weight loss; Excessive exercising; Negative comments about her body; Excessive time spend in front of the mirror; If you have observed any, or all, of these eating disorder warning signs in your child, her picky eating may be indicative of the beginnings of an eating disorder, and early intervention may be necessary. For help visit www.eatingdisorderssa.com
WORRY 3: My child just can't lose the weight. Is there a medical explanation? If your child just as active as others his age, eats a relatively healthy diet, but is still overweight, it can be tempting to wonder if there is a hormonal problem or a medical issue affecting his weight.
Children can suffer from a number of different syndromes that may fuel weightgain. Hypothyroidism, when the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the hormones that control the metabolism, can affect children. Use of medication, such as that which is used to treat asthma, may also cause a child to put on weight.
Although it is the norm for parents to be concerned when their children can't lose the weight, the appearance of these conditions in children is rare. In most cases, parent's ideas of how many calories a growing child needs per day are exaggerated. Often a child's calorie intake far outweighs the amount they are using for physical activity. Parents can be too strict, too fast, when encouraging their children to eat healthy. You may try to cut out all his favourite food at once. He may be eating treats on the sly.This enforces extremely unhealthy habits that be carried through into later life. It is a good idea to start with small adjustments and build to greater lifestyle changes to positively affect your child's health.
If you are concerned, you can weigh your child over a six month period and gauge whether he is growing into his weight, or not. If you have ensured that your child's calorie intake is appropriate for his age, and the weight problems persist even as he grows, speak to your doctor about a tests to make sure there aren't any underlying problems.
Is my Tween/Teen suffering from depression or anxiety? It is not usually alarming when your child is slightly more moody and irritable than previously, especially when moving into their teenage years. But, if your child is more subdued, less inclined to show emotion, sleeps either too much or little and does not enjoy things that she previously enjoyed, she may be suffering from depression. In South Africa, teen depression is alarmingly common. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group says that over 20% of South Africa teens have been severely depressed.
Although it is easy to jump to the worse conclusion, parents should acknowledge that the oestrogen and testosterone flying around teen's bodies' during puberty may also be a cause of increased sullenness. In general, mood swings are normal and you can address these by encouraging your child to eat healthily. Nutrients such as vitamin D, omega 3 (found in eggs, fish, flaxseed and walnuts) and carbohydrates can help to produce the happy hormone, serotonin. Make sure your teen or tween gets plenty of exercise and avoids too much caffeine, which could cause late nights and rolling eyes in the morning. You should start to worry if your teen's bad mood lasts for a prolonged period of time. If she is down in the dumps for days, as opposed to an evening, you may need to visit a psychologist or doctor.
My child is always tired. What's wrong? Your once boisterous and bubbly child is feeling tired all the time and getting up in the mornings is becoming a drag, for both him and you! Should you be worried?
Medical conditions such as celiac disease and anaemia are a common cause of fatigue in children; however before you precede with the diagnosis, children, in general, do need a lot of sleep.Toddlers should get an average of 14 to 16 hours of sleep a day, while children at school need 10 to 12 hours. Some children may need more sleep than others and should be encouraged to take a nap during down time. If your child has problems with fatigue make sure to make breakfast a priority in his diet. Avoid sugary breakfasts in the morning, but rather make sure he gets enough energy with a high carbohydrate and Low GI breakfast. Low carbohydrate diets, have been linked to fatigue. Dehydration may also be a factor as your child's body may spend a lot of energy on keeping his water levels balanced. Experts say that children between the ages of one and eight need about 1.3 litres of water a day. This is especially important during sports and exercise. Make sure he drinks at least every 20 minutes!
If your child's tiredness begins to impair his ability to function, concentrate in school, participate in sports or socialize with his friends, it is a good idea to consult a health professional.
Sources: www.aboutkidshealth.ca; www.webmd.com; www.parenting.com; www.babycenter.com; www.babyzone.com; www.sadag.org