Overweight children should watch less television

Parents of overweight children should be told to reduce the amount of time they spend watching television and playing computer games, according to new official guidance for health workers.

Children over 12 whose weight is a concern should be encouraged to keep a diary of how much time they spend in front of the television or playing computer games each day, the health watchdog said.

Parents of younger children should carefully monitor their behavior in the same way, according to official guidance issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

Doing so could help parents and children form a plan to reduce their TV viewing at certain times and replace hours spent in front of a screen with a more active pastime.

The advice is one of a broad range of recommendations issued by Nice on Wednesday with the intention of tackling the “obesity time bomb” among British children.

The guidance is aimed at health workers and other professionals who provide “lifestyle weight management services” for children, but identifies families as the key to tackling the problem.

It includes advice on identifying parents who are in denial about their child’s weight, amid concerns that efforts to help children lose weight are in some cases “undermined” by family members.

Similar guidance last week recommended the use of lifestyle weight management services, which are focused on helping people develop healthy eating and exercise habits, for adults but warned doctors not to “blame” patients for being fat.

Figures from 2011 suggest that about 30 per cent of boys and girls aged two to 10 were overweight or obese, including about 23 per cent of children aged four to five and 34 per cent aged 10 to 11.

Professor Mike Kelly, director of the Centre for Public Health at Nice, said: “Obesity in children and young people is a serious and growing concern”.

The programs will “support parents to identify changes that can be done at home to tackle obesity – and maintained over the long-term”, he added.

“Many of them are things we should all be doing anyway, including healthy eating, getting the whole family to be more active and reducing the amount of time spent watching TV and playing computer games.”

The guidance says parents and children should be told how obesity can cause serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes in later life, and to ask about their attitudes towards diet and exercise and the amount of time they spend being sedentary.

Program organizers should highlight the importance of all family members following advice on eating healthily and being physically active, even if they are not themselves overweight, it says.

It calls for “positive parenting skills training”, such as help in understanding nutritional information from food labels, or finding ways to incorporate more activity into their children’s daily life such as walking or cycling.

Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said the advice was “spot on” but said persuading local authorities to follow the guidance could be “a different kettle of fish”.

“They have been handed a poisoned chalice of dealing with it by Westminster without the funding required for the job,” he said.


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