Parents call on experts to help obese children

Sara Primo, with Advantage Sports UAE, said the company received weekly inquiries for personal trainers to help children.

A girl enjoys food from Popeyes at Abu Dhabi Mall. Sammy Dallal / The National
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ABU DHABI // Personal trainers and nutritionists say their services are in demand to help overweight children to shed the fat and become fitter.

Sara Primo, with Advantage Sports UAE, said the company received weekly inquiries for personal trainers to help children.

“I was contacted about a child who is only nine, 144 centimetres tall and weighs 56 kilograms,” said the Portuguese, who specialises in obesity and diabetes.

Ms Primo blames a sedentary society for child obesity.

“Street and the playground games have been replaced with iPads and iPhones, which makes our future society even more complacent and without movement,” she said. “Exercise is a vital piece of children’s growth and development.”

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, children and adolescents should do a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

Ms Primo said it was never too early to begin exercising.

“Activities are available for babies from six months old with Aqua Baby, progressing to Baby Gym and then, from the age of three, they have a full range of activities available,” she said.

Kieran Francis, of Revolution Fitness, said requests to help children get fit were often made when a child’s weight was already out of hand.

“Parents of obese children, from our experience, tend to not be interested in helping their child lose the weight until it becomes a problem,” he said. “Anecdotally, children are either encouraged from a young age or not at all to engage in physical activity.”

Mr Francis said the most important thing is that the child finds physical activity he or she is passionate about.

“For example, although football is the most popular sport in the world, it doesn’t mean that every child will like it,” he said. “Some may like dancing and some rock climbing. It’s about finding the right fit for the child.”

Carole Holditch, founder of Good Habits, in Dubai, has worked with overweight children as young as 10 at the weekly slimming groups she organised. One 10-year-old, Ross, went from 67kg to 54kg. The schoolboy ­described himself as fat and bloated before. Now, he feels much better about himself.

Ms Holditch said the focus should be on healthy eating education in schools in a fun and practical way, with experts showing pupils that eating – and preparing – healthy food can be enjoyable.

“I have been invited into various schools to present to children at assembly healthy eating and have found the children to be very receptive,” she said.