Healthy lifestyle refer to the well-being of physical, mental and social. It includes healthy diet, frequent physical activity, emotional and spiritual wellness. Absences of disease or illness does not equate to healthy lifestyle.
Various aspects of healthy lifestyle in children is of importance. This encourages children to maintain those habits and continue doing so in their future. Health problems and diseases can be prevented from the cultivation of healthy lifestyle habits.
Chronic diseases from unhealthy lifestyle habits among children
Chronic diseases are known as non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Research has shown that non-communicable diseases tends to appear in the middle age after exposure to long-term unhealthy lifestyle habits.
Childhood is marked as a critical period with development in physical, neurological and social aspects. Behavioural habits such as dieting and exercising are established in this period.
If unhealthy lifestyle habits are developed at the early age, the child will likely continue practising such behaviours as they age. Therefore, leading to increase risk of non-communicable diseases.
Risk factors related to non-communicable diseases are commonly found among children and adolescent, especially childhood obesity.
Obesity refers to the excessive mass of fat in a person. Singapore uses a weight for height chart to diagnose obesity. Obesity is found to be a major risk factor for other chronic illnesses.
In 2022, an estimate of 16% of students (primary, secondary and pre-university levels) were found to be afflicted by childhood obesity in Singapore.
A report from CNA has revealed that 1 in 5 children are overweight or obese by a paediatrician, Lim Yang Chern.
Eating habits for children
Healthy eating is one of the important habits in children. Children might not be able to grow out of the chubbiness, despite looking adorable when they are young.
Maintaining weight in children
To maintain weight in children, energy balance becomes the focus. Eating more food than using energy will result in weight gain. Energy that is not used will be stored as fat.
Energy input (what food was eaten) = Energy output (activities the child does)
To prevent obesity, caretakers are to encourage children to eat healthily and be physically active.
Types of food for children
There are 4 types of food groups in My Healthy Plate - grains (brown rice, wholemeal bread), fruits, vegetables, meat and others.
Mixing the 4 types of food group in a meal will provide the necessary nutrients the child needs.
Servings for children
Right number of servings from each food group per day is highly recommended for the children to obtain the necessary nutrients.
Especially for children aged 3 to 6 years old, grains (brown rice, wholemeal bread, etc) are recommended to be 3-4 servings per day.
Fruit is recommended to be 1 serving per day.
Vegetables are recommended to be 1 serving per day.
Meat and others (Dairy food or calcium-rich food constitute 1 serving) are recommended to be 2 servings per day.
The table below display examples of 1 serving size for each food group. Weights that are listed are for edible portions, the bowl is the size of a rice bowl, the mug is 250ml and the plate diameter is 10 inches (25.4 cm).
Meat and Others
2 slices wholemeal bread (60g)
½ bowl brown rice (100g)
2 bowls of brown rice porridge (500g)
½ bowl of whole-grain noodles, Bee Hoon or spaghetti (100g)
4 plain wholemeal biscuits (40g)
2 wholemeal chapatis (60g)
1½ cups whole-grain breakfast cereal (40g)
⅔ bowl of uncooked oatmeal (50g)
Raw leafy vegetables (150g)
Raw non-leafy vegetables (100g)
¾ mug of cooked leafy vegetables (100g)
¾ mug of cooked non-leafy vegetables (100g)
¼ round plate of cooked vegetables
1 small apple, orange, pear or mango (130g)
1 wedge of papaya, pineapple or watermelon (130g)
10 grapes or longans (50g)
1 medium banana
¼ cup of dried fruit (40g)
1 palm-size piece of meat, fish or poultry (90g)
2 glasses of milk (500 ml)
2 small blocks of soft bean curd (170g)
¾ cup of cooked pulses (peas, beans, lentils) (120g)
5 medium prawns (90g)
3 eggs (150g)
Types of healthy snacks for children
Healthier snacks can be given to children who are hungry in between meals.
Such examples are healthier train mix with chopped nuts and dried fruit, yoghurt pots with granola or fresh fruit, frozen fruit treats, easy guacamole (slight lemon juice, pinch of salt and ripe tomatoes), cheese and crackers, vegetables and dip.
Healthier option of food for family and children
Caretakers may choose food with Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) label when they are purchasing in the supermarket. Food with HCS label are low in fat, salt, sugar and high in calcium or wholegrains compared to other products.
Different types of food with HCS can be added into a healthy, balanced diet. However, a word of caution - food is to be eaten in moderation.
How to introduce healthy diet to children
Children being introduced to healthy dieting from young will likely continue having a preference when they are an adult.
Children tend to view the adults as their role model, their quality of life and impact of health will improve when caretakers are mindful and making better food choice.
Examples on how to introduce healthy diet:
Choosing healthier oils.
Eating recommended servings of fruit and vegetables.
Introducing wholegrain food.
Adding calcium into the children’s diet.
Lower salt and sugar intake.
Using various tips to have the children’s interest in healthy food for their meals.
Having activities with the children using food items.
Preparing meals with children.
Physical activities for children
Children are encouraged to have at least 180 minutes of physical activity per day. Activities are recommended to be done throughout the day, in various intensity and in between periods of inactivity.
Examples of physical activities for children
Children aged 3 to 6 have lots of energy, prefer to run, jump and play. Fundamental motor skills in these ages are still in development. They are still learning to follow instructions and rules, while connecting with their peers.
Caretakers are highly encouraged to join in the activities with their children, as they can teach children about sports, bond with the children and learn about their children’s preference of physical activities.
Examples of physical activities for children are:
Free (unstructured) play.
Hide and seek.
Taking stairs instead of lift or escalator
Walking around neighbourhood after dinner
Light exercises while watching TV, e.g. sit-ups or walking on the spot
Doing household chores with your children
Encourage children to walk to school, alight one bus stop before the intended location, and walk the rest of the way.
Safety in physical activity for children
Children tend to forget about safety when they get excited about playtime. Safety rules and tips should be taught to children, supervision by adults is important during the activity.
Examples of safety rules:
Wearing suitable clothes, shoes and protective gears for activities.
Exercising before meals or 2 hours after a heavy meal.
Warm-ups and cool down before and after exercising.
Avoid exercising when children are not well or just recovered from an illness.
End the session when children experience pain, giddiness or breathlessness.
Avoid doing activities outside during the hottest period of the day.
Frequent water breaks before, on and after activities.
Practice water safety tips for activities in water.
I hope the information available encourage you to practice healthy lifestyle habits with your children.