Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight

 

 


Good nutrition in children is essential for healthy growth and development which leads to substantial benefits later in life. Establishing a healthy pattern of eating early in life can have positive effects, including maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risk of chronic disease.

Despite an abundant food supply in Australia, many children and families do not eat recommended amounts of nutrient dense foods such as fruit, vegetables, and high fibre grain foods. Instead, Australians tend to eat more than recommended amounts of energy dense foods (such as lollies, biscuits, crisps, juice and soft drinks). 

The good news is that parents and carers can positively influence children’s eating patterns.  Children develop patterns of eating through observing the eating patterns of the people around them.  When children see adults eating lots of fruit, vegetables and high fibre grain foods they are more likely to eat these foods too. 

Parents can also positively influence the way children feel about their bodies. Let your children know that you love them no matter what size or shape they are.  Try and talk positively about your own body as well.   

To nourish your child, it’s important to look after yourself too. Nourish yourself and your family with more vegetables, fruits and other nutrient dense foods.        

 

Food and eating are essential parts of human life and culture. 

The formula for healthy eating is not the same for everyone.  For example, healthy eating for a child with a medical condition may be different to healthy eating for a child without a medical condition.  Healthy eating also changes across the life span.  Newborn babies need different types of food to toddlers, which is different again to school age children, adolescents and adults. 

Healthy people come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, with different lifestyles and different interests.  There is not one particular shape or size of body that is the healthiest type of body.  Similarly, there is not one universal pattern of eating that is the perfect fit for everybody.      

While healthy eating can vary for different people there are some common themes. Healthy eating is about your overall pattern of intake, not just one meal or snack.  Healthy eating can also be described as:

  • Enjoying food.  Being able to eat a wide range of food, in a wide range of settings without feeling too worried or guilty. 
  • Eating in a way that keeps your body and mind well in the present and helps prevent disease later on.  
  • Eating in a way that supports physical, mental, social and emotional well-being.
  • Eating the right balance of food to support growth and development for children and adolescents.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines are published by the National Health and Medical Research Council.  The guidelines focus on dietary patterns that promote health and wellbeing rather than recommending that you only eat – or completely avoid – specific foods. 

The Australian Dietary Guidelines provide information about the types and amounts of foods, food groups and dietary patterns that aim to:

  • promote health and wellbeing;
  • reduce the risk of diet-related conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity; and
  • reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancers.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines apply to all healthy Australians, as well as those with common health conditions such as being above their most healthy weight. They do not apply to people who need special dietary advice for a medical condition, or to the frail elderly.
 

Aus Guide to Healthy Eating           ATSI Guide to Healthy Eating

 

Do the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that I only eat certain foods?

No. The Australian Dietary Guidelines, assist by helping you to choose foods for a healthy pattern of eating. They also provide advice on how many serves from each of the food groups you need to eat everyday depending upon your age, gender, body size and physical activity levels.

The table below shows how many serves from each food group children should be eating every day. 

 

 

Bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles

Vegetables, legumes

Fruit

Milk, yoghurt, cheese

Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes

Extra foods

Children

4-7 years

3-4

4

1-2

3

½ - 1

1-2

Children

8-11 Years

4-6

4-5

1-2

3

1-1½

1-2

Adolescents 12-18 years

4-7

5-9

3-4

3-5

1-2

1-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit eatforhealth.gov.au to view the Australian Dietary Guidelines and other healthy eating information.

Children and teenagers need to grow, but they are healthiest if they stay within a certain weight range as they grow. This is called a healthy weight for their age.


How do I know if my child or teenager is healthy weight?

You can find out if a child or teenager is a healthy weight for their age using the healthy weight calculator.


Who is the healthy weight calculator for?

This calculator can be used for children and teenagers from 2 years through to 18 years of age.

Use the Healthy weight calculator for children and teenagers.

Fussy eating is a common issue that parents can face as their child grows. Choosing and refusing food is one way that children show their independence.

View the Fussy eating in toddlers fact sheet for further information.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines may not apply to your child if they have a medical condition. For more detailed advice and support please discuss your child’s dietary needs with a dietitian, GP, paediatrician or medical specialist.

A food allergy is a potentially life threatening medical condition that occurs when the immune system reacts to food. Common foods that people are allergic to are milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. 

If you believe your child has an allergy, you should discuss with your GP. 

For further information about food allergies visit the Children's Hospital Allergy Information Sheets page.

One in Four Children in NSW are above a healthy weight for their age. 

It’s not always easy to tell if a child is a healthy weight for their age and height. Children and teenagers need to grow, but they are healthiest if they stay within a certain weight range as they grow. This is called a healthy weight for their age.

If you know your child’s height and weight and want to check if their weight is within the healthy range for their age, height and gender, you can check using the healthy weight calculator.

Boys Growth Chart Girls Growth Chart


If the calculator indicates that your child’s weight is above the healthy range you should discuss this with your GP. 


If you don’t know your child’s height and weight

If your child experiences more than two of the symptoms on the following checklist, they may have a weight that is above the healthy range or may be at risk of increasing weight to above the healthy range.

Checklist:

o Wears clothes that are two or more sizes too big for their age

o Has rolls or skin folds around waist

o Snores when asleep

o Mentions getting teased about weight

o Gets very puffed or red in the face after running for 10 minutes continuously

o Doesn't participate in games at school or doesn't want to go out with other children

o Eats adult size food portions of high fat or high sugar foods

o Is always hungry or asking for high fat or high sugar foods - although their appetite may change when they are experiencing growth spurts

o Doesn't regularly eat a high fibre breakfast

o Skips meals regularly

o Eats more than two serves of 'extra' foods each day, such as sugary drinks, cakes, muffins, pies, biscuits or high sugar muesli bars

o Drinks sugary cordial or soft drink more than three times a week

o Eats high fat foods such as pies, pasties, sausage rolls, chips or hot chips more than three times a week

o Eats high sugar foods such as muffins, cakes, biscuits most days (or more than three days a week)

o Has take-away or fast-food meals more than once a week

o Watches TV/video games for more than two hours each day

The calculator and checklist provide a general guide to healthy weight in children and teenagers. This is not intended to be a substitute for advice from a health professional. See your GP or local health professional if you are concerned about your child's growth or development.

Learn more on LiveLighter.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines apply to all healthy Australians, as well as those with common health conditions such as being above their most healthy weight.

You may be able to make some changes that will make a big difference to your child and family’s health. 


Nutrition tips to keep your children healthy
  • It's important to be a positive role model.  Eat similar foods to the food you would like your child to eat. 
  • Eat together as a family and turn screens off during meal times. 
  • Be careful about giving food as a reward or as a display of love.
  • Offer water if your child is hungry between meals. Children often think they're hungry when they're actually thirsty.
  • Limit sugar containing drinks such as cordial, energy drinks, sports drinks, juices, vitamin waters and soft drinks. 
  • Start each day with a healthy breakfast.
  • Let your child help choose and prepare healthy meals and snacks.
  • Encourage your child to recognize when they are full. It's OK for them to leave food on their plate
  • Offer a wide variety of types and colours of vegetables.  Always include vegetables at lunch and dinner as well as snacks.  2 ½ serves of vegetables/day are recommended for preschool age children. 5 serves/day for school aged children
  • Encourage appropriate quantities of fruit as a snack.  Limit to 1 serve /day for preschool aged children.  2 serves/day for school aged children. 
  • Include high fibre grain foods (e.g. multigrain bread instead of white bread and brown rice instead of white rice).
  • Limit discretionary foods such as biscuits, cakes, processed meats, sausages, ice cream, chocolate, pastries, meat pies, sausage rolls, take away, chips, cream and lollies.  

Physical Activity

All children need to be physically active every day.  Children need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. 'Moderate' physical activity uses the major muscle groups and will increase heart rate. 'Vigorous' activity will get them huffing and puffing. Limit screen time to less than 1 hour per day for preschool children and less than 2 hours/day for school age children. 


Useful links

https://go4fun.com.au/

http://dadee.net.au/

http://au.mendcentral.org/

https://www.newcastle.edu.au/newsroom/current-staff/Back2Basics-family-online-nutrition-program

https://www.healthykids.nsw.gov.au/

http://www.hnekidshealth.nsw.gov.au/site/content.cfm?page_id=681076&current_category_code=16117

http://raisingchildren.net.au/

https://www.makehealthynormal.nsw.gov.au/

http://www.gethealthynsw.com.au/

https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/

https://livelighter.com.au/

Children who are above a healthy weight can have significant health issues.  These include physical, psychological and social concerns.  Immediate health problems can include asthma, bone and joint complications, sleep disturbance, with earlier onset of diabetes and heart disease.  Children who are above a healthy weight can also experience social isolation and low mood. 

The John Hunter Children’s Hospital Weight Management Service is a multidisciplinary service, which holds outpatient clinics for children and young people with a body mass index (BMI) above the 95th centile and associated co-morbidities. The service provides a combination of individual and group sessions over a 4 month period.

The program is broken up into three age brackets: 2-6 years, 7-12 years and 13-17 years.


How can I access the Weight Management Service at John Hunter Children’s Hospital?

A referral from a General Practitioner or specialist medical practitioner is required to access this service. Please see your child’s GP and ask them to consult the Overweight and Obesity in Children and Young People Health Pathway.

Children and adolescents are growing, which means they need a lot of energy. Low weight can occur for a number of reasons, including not eating enough food.  If you think that your child’s weight is below the healthy range consult your GP. 

If you know your child’s height and weight and want to check if their weight is within the healthy range for their age, height and sex, you can check using the healthy weight calculator.

If the calculator indicates that your child is underweight you should discuss this with your GP. 

This calculator provides a general guide to healthy weight in children and teenagers. It is not intended to be a substitute for advice from a health professional. See your GP or local health professional if you are concerned about your child's growth or development.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines may not apply to children with a weight below the healthy range. 

It is important to discuss nutrition with a health professional if your child’s weight is below the healthy range. Please see your child’s GP and ask them to consult the appropriate Hunter New England Health Pathway.

Eating disorders are severe mental and physical illnesses characterized by disturbances in behaviour and thinking around food, eating, weight and/or shape. They comprise a wide spectrum of illness and are serious, potentially-life threatening health problems; they are not a lifestyle choice. Eating disorders affect people of all ages from all cultural backgrounds.

Early intervention is the best way to assist with recovery. It’s important to be aware of the warning signs that may indicate someone is developing or experiencing an eating disorder.

Learn more about the warning signs that someone is developing a problem with eating.

Many people with an eating disorder do not realise they have a problem, or if they do, they may go to extraordinary lengths to hide the signs of their behaviour.

If you are concerned that your child may have an eating disorder please discuss with your GP or paediatrician. 

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