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Supporting physical development in early childhood
Supporting physical development in early childhood

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6.1 Why children can become overweight and obese

Using the case study of Gideon which you looked at in Activity 6, you will now look at some of the reasons why children may be overweight or obese and some of the ways to address the issue. You will then look at how you may approach and work with Gideon’s parents.

The child’s environment

The really important point to take away from the case study of Gideon is that he is part of a loving family so his emotional environment will make a positive contribution to his wellbeing. From the physical environment point of view, where a child lives can have an impact on the amount and type of physical activity that child can take part in. Living in a community where there is a high level of poverty can mean that there are fewer spaces for children to be active outdoors.

Diet and nutrition

Living in poverty is associated with poor housing and can mean that cooking facilities are limited. Low income can mean there is limited money to spend on gas or electricity and that can make cooking unaffordable.

Accessing nutritious food that’s affordable is challenging because of the lack of supermarkets that sell high quality food at prices that families who live in poverty can afford. In relation to Gideon, it may be that by giving him sweets, his parents are demonstrating their love for him in a way that is affordable within their limited means.

Low quality, high fat/sugar, highly processed foods are cheaper per calorie than higher quality, healthier foods – which often take more time and effort to prepare.

Leaving the estate to get to a discount supermarket is also a challenge for many families. Public transport is scarce, and the bus timetable doesn’t fit easily with dropping off and collecting children from school and nursery.

There aren’t any easy solutions to addressing the many reasons why children can become overweight. Increasing the level of physical activity isn’t necessarily the answer to reducing a child’s weight, but for all the reasons discussed during this course, it is very important that all children are physically active. However, children who are carrying extra weight can find it challenging to take part in physical activity. The reasons why this is the case is because carrying excess weight is hard work and it can be uncomfortable to move quickly; moving with excess weight can cause shortness of breath. To illustrate this point, imagine that you are running for a bus at the same time as carrying a bag of potatoes that weighs 5 pounds!

Addressing a child’s weight is a highly sensitive subject and many parents are unaware that their child is overweight (Public Health England, 2019). It is likely that they may feel shocked, angry, upset and guilty. Below are some suggestions on how to appoach and work with Gideon’s parents.

Approaching Gideon’s parents

Ask to speak to Gideon’s parents and take them somewhere private to do so:

  • Ask his parents if they have concerns about his weight
  • Use sensitive language to explain concerns about Gideon’s weight
  • Explain that the aim for managing young children who are overweight is not to necessarily lose weight but not to gain any more, that is ‘to grow into their weight’
  • Discuss ways of practitioners working with all members of the family to support Gideon to increase his level of physical activity.

Working with Gideon’s parents

It is important to identify ways of incorporating physical activity into the normal daily routine rather than it being a special effort:

  • Suggest that Gideon is encouraged to walk some of the route to nursery
  • Think of ways to create opportunities and suggestions aimed at increasing the level of all children’s physical activity so that Gideon’s parents don’t feel singled out
  • Invite parents into the nursery to join in activities with their children.