We have all heard that our children are facing an epidemic of obesity. One of every five children in the United States has obesity.
Children who are obese are at much greater risk of becoming obese adults and facing future health consequences such as diabetes and heart disease, so it is important to learn all we can about prevention strategies as parents.
National Childhood Obesity Month is held during September to spread awareness of the problem, its consequences for our children and what we can do to address the situation.
Factors Causing Childhood Obesity
Many factors have impacted these staggering numbers. We know deep down what the problems facing our kids today are but may need to hear it yet again.
- Kids are not being physically active
- Lack of a safe place for kids to play in many communities
- Screen time is overtaking their lives including TV, video games, smartphones, tablets and computers
- Inadequate sleep routine, not enough sleep, erratic sleeping hours, lack of bedtime habit
- Lack of healthy food sources, food deserts
- Too much access to high calorie, low nutrient dense foods and beverages; desire to choose less healthy foods due to convenience or perceived expense
Most families are busy. We often don’t seem to have the time or energy to make family meals, cooking from scratch or physical activity a priority. This is affecting the health of not just the children but the entire family.
Strategies for Parents
It is important when trying to improve the health and well-being of our kids that we take a good look at our lifestyles to determine where the gaps to good health are. Once we can determine what the gaps are, we can begin filing the gaps. Each family has a unique set of challenges. What works for one family might not work for others. Here are some action steps you can try to help your children fight obesity.
1) Findways to get active
Do things as a family. Be a role model for physical fitness. Find the fun so that you will keep doing it regularly!
a) bike riding
d) kite flying
e) walk the dog
f) rake the leaves
2) Set a bedtime routine and stick to it
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), kids need this much sleep each night:
|Age||Recommended Amount of Sleep|
|Newborns||16–18 hours a day|
|Preschool-aged children||11–12 hours a day|
|School-aged children||At least 10 hours a day|
|Teens||9–10 hours a day|
Decide what time they should go to bed based on what time they have to get up for school. Plan for the appropriate dinner, homework and bath time. Read a book together to wind down. Turn off all screens at a specific time. Make the bedroom a tranquil place for sleep.
3) Improve the quality of food choices
Select fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Find ways to prepare these foods that will be appealing to the kids. Plan menus, grocery shop and cook meals together to involve the children in their own health.
4) Rethink their drinks!
Reduce the sugar sweetened beverages your children drink throughout the day. It is recommended that kids drink low fat milk at meals and water between times to quench their thirst. There are many options for flavoring water without added sugars such as orange and lemon wedges or other options. Juices, sports drinks and sodas have additional calories.
5) Eat the right amount of calories without excess
Achieve a healthy calorie balance based on your child’s individual needs and their physical activity level. Portion control can help you manage their calorie intake in addition to improved food choices. You can find out how many calories your child needs at ChooseMyPlate.gov and check their body mass index (BMI) using this calculator for children and teens.
6) Team up with child care facilities
Be sure they are providing healthy meals and snacks. Review their posted menus and talk with administrators if you have suggestions to improve it.
7) Encourage healthy food choices at school
Most schools have improved the nutritional quality of school lunches, offer breakfast and even healthy snack options during the school day under the new government regulations. You should review the menus with your child and encourage good selections. If a particular meal will be refused, it is a good day to pack a nutritious lunch. Brown bag lunches should include healthy foods not poor nutrient quality, high fat/salt/calorie items.
8) Be a good role model for consistent healthy lifestyle choices!
Practice what you preach, limit high fat convenience foods, sit down for meals as a family and keep active together.
Should I Try To Put My Younger Child On A Weight Loss Diet?
Many parents are worried about their children’s health and wonder if a restricted calorie diet should be started.
A recent study has found that younger children who were dieting often were linked with eating disorders, adult obesity and alcoholism. Sounds shocking but young women who began diets early in their life were more likely to have these health issues in their thirties.
Researchers did not find a direct cause and effect between being on a diet early and these poor health outcomes but feel there is a strong correlation there because children become so focused on their weight and eating patterns.
It is better for you to educate your children about which foods are healthy choices, encourage healthy food choices when they are away from home, model good eating behaviors in the home, limit low nutritional quality of snack foods, cook together, choose unsweetened beverages especially water, reduce their screen time and be physically active as a family instead of restricting calories and potentially essential nutrients in your children’s diet as described above.
Creating healthy habits instead of punishing unhealthy ones will result in improved health for a lifetime
It is important for parents, grandparents, families and children to work together to reduce childhood obesity and by making these lifestyle choices lifelong health habits.