Dr Deirdre Peake talks to us about children's health going forward in 2014

24th, February 2014

February is often a month in which we don’t know where to focus. The pressure of New Year’s resolutions has either been forgotten or is in full swing. So what’s next and what does this month in 2014 and those months ahead mean for our children’s health?

The meaning of February for our kid’s health!

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February is often a month in which we don’t know where to focus.  The pressure of New Year’s resolutions has either been forgotten or is in full swing. So what’s next and what does this month in 2014 and those months ahead mean for our children’s health?

The word February is born from the Latin word Februarius, from Latin februare meaning to "purify" In ancient Rome, Februarius was the "Month of Purification" and great festivities were held to re-establish the empire's focus on righteous living.

To me, this idea of devoting a month to the process of purification is invigorating. The hustle-bustle of the holidays are left behind, transfer test results are out and kids are established in their school routines. February finally sees many of us getting our first breath of fresh air.

I am a fairly typical parent - married with 3 kids ranging from 5 to 12 years, with both my husband and me working fulltime.  These are 3 simple ideas to  embrace in February to help  to re-establish a balanced and healthy lifestyle for our children ( and there is  lots of medical evidence to support it)

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  1. Eating evening meals together. We are lucky that most evening we are able to do this. The advantages are many. It’s probably the only time during the week where we are all together in the same room for more than 5 mins. We get to eat all the same food (proper dinners not the kids meals and then ours!  The right food is so important. Childhood obesity is a real problem and many children’s diets are filled with pre prepared/ packaged food full of sugar and additives.

Facts on childhood obesity:

  1. For children attending reception class (aged 4-5 years) during 2011-12 in the UK  9.5% were obese. Results from 2012 show that around 28% of children aged 2 to 15 were classed as either overweight or obese.
  2. Overweight and obese children are more likely to become obese adults, and have a higher risk of morbidity, disability and premature mortality in adulthood.
  3. The emotional and psychological effects of being overweight are often seen as the most immediate and serious by children themselves. They include teasing and discrimination by peers; low self-esteem; anxiety and depression. In one study, severely obese children rated their quality of life as low as children with cancer on chemotherapy. Obese children may also suffer disturbed sleep and fatigue.
  4. Some obesity-related conditions can develop during childhood e.g . Type 2 diabetes, Other health risks of childhood obesity include early puberty, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, skin infections, asthma and other respiratory problems. I see many children with headaches and one type of headache associated with  obesity is  idiopathic intracranial hypertension. 

Stress in children

Having meals together is a proper time to catch up. It’s amazing the things that have happened in school that you hear about only at meal time. Worries are often shared and laughed at! Disasters seem a little less horrendous.

  1. UNICEF has placed the UK at number 16 in a league table of child wellbeing in 29 of the world’s richest countries (UNICEF, 2013). This suggests that many children and young people in the UK are not as happy or contented with their life as they should be.
  2. Stress in children can lead to may problems requiring medical or neurological attention e.g recurrent abdominal pain, tension headaches, dizziness, sleep disturbance, eating disorders, anxiety and challenging behaviour. There is lots of advice available on management once the stressors are identified


  1. In the evening turn off every electronic device in the house and leave it on the kitchen table. It drives me crazy when I am talking to the kids and their heads are stuck in laptops, phones, tablets. So put a limit to it,  this simple task can make a significant change to some children’s behaviour and well being
    1.  Research has shown that electronic stimulation before bedtime (at least 1 hour) stimulates the brain and can contribute to sleep problems and headaches. It is quite surprising how well children respond to the “No Electronic Items Rule” if one is  consistent . It is important to also give dedicated set amount of time to play on their favourite device.( e.g  sometimes as rewards for work/ Friday evening chill out!)
    2. A recent study in Hong Kong comments on the postural effects of children slumped over portable devices and the inflammatory reaction of ligaments with excessive texting.
    3. Headaches are a common problem in childhood and it is estimated that ¼ of adolescents suffer weekly headache and 2/3 of the childhood population report one or more headache in the past year. Again many can be managed appropriately without medication and just life style changes.


    1. Reading at bedtime.  In theory this is great, in practice with children at all different ages (and you yourself are exhausted) this can be challenging. I find it best not to rush; turn my phone off and relax… it might be the only time you get to sit down at night either.
        1.  Bedtime routines are important for children to enable them to wind down. There are some lovely stories to read together at this time that can help with any worries or school issues and to feel secure. My favourite is “The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside 

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      1. Guatemalan Worry Dolls (Fair Trade) are great for the younger child. Children use these worry dolls to remove their worries. Before going to bed they tell a worry to each of the Guatemalan dolls. In the morning the children wake up without their worries, which have been taken away by the dolls during the night.

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Good luck to everyone like me who have failed on the New year’s resolution and yet is determined to make February onwards the year of purification and a healthier start!


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