What is obesity?

Obesity is a disease. It refers to a high proportion of body fat in various regions of the body e.g. internal organs or beneath the skin. This increased fat accumulation can damage the human organism and lead e.g. to diabetes. Early signs of these consequential problems e.g. calcification of blood vessels (arteriosclerosis) can already be identified at childhood. It is also commonly known as morbid obesity.

Who can I contact if my child and I are searching for professional help regarding obesity?

In this case there is an interdisciplinary team in Salzburg which builds on 25 years of experience. The offer is directed at families with overweight toddlers/children and also extremly overweight adolescents until the age of 18. More information at www.gewichtig.at.

Are there recommendations for healthy physical activity?

The Austrian recommendations for health enhancing physical activity (Titze et al., 2012; Wissen, Bd. 8, Fonds Gesundes Österreich, Wien) state in agreement with international guidelines: In order to prevent physical and mental illness, children should move at least one hour per day in a way that they get out of breath but can still talk at the same time. In doing so large muscle groups (legs, trunk) should be used. Additionally at least 3 days per week games and forms of exercise are recommended which strengthen the sceletal muscles and bones. A continous sitting time of more than 20 minutes should be implicitly avoided.

Are there any kinds of sports which a child should not be doing?

If a child does not have any pathologic changes in its locomotor system and is organically healthy there is no type of sport which could not be recommended. This also goes for overweight children.

Most important principle when choosing a type of sports: child-oriented = considering the child's motoric development and arousing curiosity.

Are there any recommendations for healthy nutrition?

The working group for obesity in children and adolescents (Arbeitsgruppe für Adipositas im Kindes- und Jugendalter AGA, 2012) recommends  a seasonal and regional diversified diet for children, which is adapted in size regarding to the development of the child (a pediatritian can give further information).

The meals should provide mainly carbohydrates (carbs) (55% of energy supply, in the form of complex carbs e.g. grain products of finely grinded whole grain or potatoes etc.) but also essential is protein (10 - 15% of energy supply, in the form of a children's hand sized fish/meat or legumes etc.) and fat (30% qualitatively high choice in the form of vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and fish to satisfy the needs of mono/poly unsaturated fats). Fatty and sugar-rich foods (sweets, pastries, munchies etc.) should only be availible in small doses once a day (if asked by the child). Liquid instead should always be close and in particular water or maybe unsweetened teas should be offered.

The energy supply should be divided into 5 meals (3 main meals, 2 snacks); the mealtime schedule varies culturally. It is advised to have at least one common family meal.

How can fruits and vegetables be made tasty (for children)?

The argument "healthy" is not well comprehensible for children and often has a negative connotation at early age. Furthermore experimental studies have shown that food needs to be offered repeatedly (8-13 times) to be liked by children. Fruits and vegetables should therefore be cut into pieces (if possible children can help with cutting and serving). It can be helpful to cut funny forms with cookie cutters or to compose forms and faces with pieces of fruits and vegetables. Sweet vegetables (corn, peas, pumpkin, etc.) can lead to a first success, also to avoid particularly sour fruits (e.g. better strawberries than rasberries)

How can I influence the amount of my child's drinking?

Children who don't like to drink much can be encouraged in a playful way to drink more with colourful cups, straws etc. Also a cool drinking bottle for children which is always on bord increases the drinking attraction. "Magic gemstones" in a water jug or frozen berries in ice cubes or eatable flowers in the drinking gras can animate children to drink. If only juice is drunken the amount of juice should slowly be reduced and eventually replaced by water.

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