This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Australia, which closed in 2021.

Here's What To Do If Your Kids Are Overweight Or Obese

We need to start being role models.
It's all about education, exposure and environment.
It's all about education, exposure and environment.

It's not easy admitting to yourself that your child is overweight or obese.

If your whole family is overweight, you might not fully comprehend how large of an issue childhood obesity really is. You might not have even realised until someone else said something to you, or to your child at school.

However way you realise, it's never too late to make a change.

If your child is overweight or obese and you have no idea where to start, put these following tips into action now. Time is of the essence.

"We know less than one percent of children are meeting the dietary guidelines. To me that's absolutely shocking," Despina Kamper -- nutritionist and consultant to Yia Yia's Kitchen Secretsby Poppy Stamateris and Marika Gouverosyou -- told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Change just has to happen. We need to do this through education, and social norms just have to change. This is why it's so difficult."

1. Expose your kids to a variety of healthy foods

If your children are used to always eating chips, cakes, biscuits and fast food, then it's no wonder why this is all they want. Instead, expose them to colourful whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains like brown rice, and nuts and seeds.

"The biggest thing with kids is that they just need exposure to good food, and if you're exposing your kids to good food they will eventually have it," Kamper said.

"The research is saying that it takes around seven exposures before kids start eating it. So if they don't like vegetables and you serve it on their plate, by the seventh time it's on their plate they'll probably eat it. Especially if they've got good role models."

2. Be a role model

You can't expect your child to eat healthy if you don't. Children learn by imitation, so teach your children how to eat healthy by doing so yourself.

"If you've got parents doing it and it's on your plate, it will work," Kamper said. "And don't make a fuss if they don't eat it, just keep putting it on a plate. If we've got exposure then we know that eventually they will eat it."

You can't expect children to eat veggies if you don't.
You can't expect children to eat veggies if you don't.

3. Follow the dietary guidelines

Despite the fact that the Australian Dietary Guidelines are simple and publicly accessible, we're just not following them.

"Our kids need to eat certain foods, and vegetables is one of them. We need awareness around these things, this is really important," Kamper said.

"One of the key things is that we have government guidelines that say just that, but these guidelines aren't being adhered to.

"We don't just have dietary guidelines because we plucked a couple of figures from thin air. Dietary guidelines are there because they've studied 55,000 research papers to come up with a solution because we've got such high incidences of obesity and lifestyle diseases.

"And these 55,000 research papers showed that if we have this amount of veg, fruit, protein and so on, then we will reduce the risk of getting these diseases by a lot. But no one really plugs them, so I think we need a big emphasis on education. A big emphasis."

Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:

  • Plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
  • Fruit
  • Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  • Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
  • Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years)
  • And drink plenty of water.

Limit intake of foods high in saturated fat such as many biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats, commercial burgers, pizza, fried foods, potato chips, crisps and other savoury snacks.

4. Change the environment and your attitude

Making changes is much more difficult when the environment and attitude towards being healthy is negative. This goes for the environment not just in your home but in your own mind.

"To change obesity, we need to change the environment. It's not about 'it's your fault you're fat, you've got to go and do this'," Kamper said.

"We've created an environment where it's really easy to be fat and this is what we have to do about it."

Changing the environment and your attitude ties in with exposure of healthy and unhealthy foods.

"If we've got kids, just don't have junk food in the house. Don't make an issue of it, just don't keep it in the house," Kamper said.

"I'm not saying don't let them have it at parties, but just don't have that temptation in the house. Out of sight, out of mind."

To achieve a healthy weight, focus on your health and diet, and the weight loss will follow.
To achieve a healthy weight, focus on your health and diet, and the weight loss will follow.

Instead of focusing on all the big, scary changes you need to make, focus on small, positive changes like swapping white bread for whole grain bread, or swapping chips for baked sweet potato.

"It's simple things like this that can really make an impact," Kamper said. "What I try to do with my clients is not so much 'don't eat this, don't eat that'. My drive is to meet the dietary guidelines and get the vegetables up. Just that. Let's talk about what you should be eating and not what you shouldn't be eating.

"If we can get that sorted, then naturally you drop other things if you're eating more veggies."

Instead of looking at obesity as 'we've got to lose fat' and 'we've got to eat low fat or low carb', Kamper urges people to move towards 'let's get healthy'.

"We've got more low fat products than ever before, but we've got a higher obesity crisis than ever before. Eating healthy means eating healthy fats," she said.

"It's really about looking at health rather than losing weight. Weight loss is a byproduct of being healthy. Let's shift our concept."

Fill your fridge with healthy foods and not junk food to resist temptation.
Fill your fridge with healthy foods and not junk food to resist temptation.

5. Focus on home cooking

"The research also shows the more home cooked meals we have, the less likely we will be obese. So, it's about not getting those packaged foods and takeaway," Kamper said.

By cooking ourselves we have control of the portion and what goes into the food. It's also the perfect way to get the kids involved in eating healthy.

"Absolutely, and they love it. Teach them how to cook and they can help you chop up the veggies. It's only natural that they're eventually going to put that in their mouth as they chop and help. It's about creating this new norm."

If you feel you don't have time to cook at home, Kamper wants everyone to know this: "We all do have time, and if we don't our priorities are wrong."

"People keep saying they don't have time. That's a perception. They do have time," Kamper said. "By the time they've picked up the phone to order a pizza and it arrives 20-30 minutes later, you could have cooked a beautiful Jamie Oliver meal. It's all about shifting your perspective.

Kamper also recommends not making fast food a "treat" food.

"Let's stop making McDonald's the treat. Make your favourite home cooked meal a treat. Let's change and shift that social norm. That's what has worked in the past, and it's the only way I can see that it can work."

6. Make veggies the hero

Don't be put off by the possibility of your child not eating veggies. Be consistent and include a variety of vegetables often, and enjoy them together as a family.

"I'm really big on vegetables. Veg has all your antioxidants, vitamins and minerals -- everything you need," Kamper said.

"Vegetable intake depends on the age group. From ages 4-8 it's four and a half serves, and from nine onward it's five serves of veg a day."

So what does that look like?

"A cup of salad is one serve. Half a cup of cooked vegetables is one serve," Kamper said. "If we're looking at grams, 75 grams is one serve of cooked veg.

"The government is also saying chips and sauce doesn't count towards your serves of veg, so we want to look at variety."

Try spiralising zucchini to make noodles, or finely chop mushrooms to hide into the sauce.
Try spiralising zucchini to make noodles, or finely chop mushrooms to hide into the sauce.

If your children really hate vegetables, try finely grating them into homemade pasta sauces, lasagna and curries.

"Tomato sauce can have loads of serves of veg and the kids don't even know about it. You can put in eggplants, tomatoes, onions and mushrooms," Kamper said.

"Veg is only part of that picture but it's the one that we're having the least of. Whole grains is important and it's easy to change from normal grain to whole grain."

7. Practise mindful eating

We spend more time in front of the TV and computer screens than ever before, and naturally we eat our meals this way. Kamper urges people to stop mindless eating in order to help you and your children feel more satisfied and full.

"Don't ever eat in front of the TV because we don't realise when we're full," Kamper said.

"What we've lost as a nation is we've bypassed the 'full' feeling and we keep eating. We need to sit down as a family and focus on what we're eating, and be mindful of when we are full."

If you're reading this and thinking it's too late to start implementing these changes, it's not.

"It's never too late. Absolutely. I have faith in everyone," Kamper said.

Swap the TV for the dinner table.
Swap the TV for the dinner table.

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