mother and child hands holding an apple with a heart shape in the middle

Fighting Childhood Obesity

Over the last 30 years, the childhood obesity rate in the United States has nearly tripled. With more than one third of children currently classified as overweight, our country is facing an increasing list of future health concerns.  Overweight children face potential health risks such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Pre-diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Bone and joint problems
  • Stroke
  • Several types of cancer

Doctors have shared that the cause of obesity is due to caloric imbalance. This means that children are consuming more calories than they are burning. Addressing the issue early on and providing children with the necessary and healthy options to maintain a balanced lifestyle is important. When attempting to fight childhood obesity it is also important to remember that the focus is on the child’s health, not weight.

With this issue in mind, the following tips can be easily incorporated into everyday activities as parents look to build a healthier lifestyle for their child:

Lead by example

Children are always observing. They are constantly watching adults as they go throughout their day. It is important for parents to be positive role models and practice what they preach. If parents are mindful of making healthy choices, their children will be too.

Eat the most important meal of the day

You know how everyone says that breakfast is the most essential meal of the day? Well, it’s true. Eating triggers the metabolism and helps burn calories.  Starting the day with a good, healthy breakfast gets the body working early in the morning and helps sustain energy throughout the day.

Walk, don’t drive

If your child’s school is within a reasonable walking distance, walk with him. The key is to get your child moving. Walking to school can be a fun experience. Take that time to enjoy the early morning breeze and some quality time with your child.

Enjoy healthy snacking

Nearly 30 years ago children only had one snack per day. Today, children are averaging at almost six per day. When you pack your child’s lunchbox, make sure you throw in some healthy snack options, such as fresh fruits, yogurt, homemade snack mixes or vegetables. Using cookie cut outs to cut melon, cheese or your child’s sandwich into fun shapes is an easy way to make everyday foods more appealing.

Promote recess or gym class

All children will benefit from recess or gym class. Some of the benefits include stronger muscles and bones, lower risk of having Type 2 Diabetes, and possibly lower blood pressure. If your child’s school doesn’t offer gym class, encourage your child to be active during recess by playing games or walking around the playground.

Enroll in after-school sports

Why not enroll your child in a sport? Aside from getting exercise, your child will also learn the importance of teamwork, meeting new people and trying new experiences. Work with your child to find the sport or extracurricular that’s right for him.  It does not matter what the sport is, what does matter is that your child is getting physical activity in the afternoon with friends.

Eat at home

A substantial reason why obesity has been on the rise is because, on average, American households go out to eat more often than they did 30 years ago. Sitting down at the kitchen table to share quality time as a family and enjoy a healthy home-cooked meal is a great way to teach the health benefits of dinner at home.  Even better, invite your child to help in meal preparation so that he can experience the time, love and healthy ingredients that go in to a homemade dinner. Be sure to add a salad or healthy vegetable side dish!

Portion control

Long gone are the days of forcing children to eat everything on their plates.  Teaching them how to control the portions they eat at meal-time and stop eating when they’re full will benefit them the rest of their lives.

Limit screen time

Children are spending nearly 30 hours a week in front of a television or hand-held device. This time can be cut down and replaced with alternative activities. Use those 30 hours to help your child finish homework, read a book, play a family game or go outside and play with friends.

Sleep tight

Healthy sleep helps build a healthy body. Fewer hours of sleep at night increase the risk of becoming obese. Studies have shown that for each additional hour of sleep children have, the risk decreases by 9%. So, make sure that your child goes to bed at an appropriate time and gets the rest he needs.

Recommended sleep times based on age are:

NEWBORNS

(0–2 months)

12–18 hours

INFANTS

(3–11 months)

 14–15 hours

TODDLERS

(1–3 years)

12–14 hours

PRESCHOOLERS

(3–5 years)

11–13 hours

SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN

(5–10 years)

10–11 hours

TEENS

(10–17)

8.5–9.25 hours

ADULTS

7–9 hours

(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

As a parent, it is important to educate your children on the risks of an unhealthy lifestyle and provide them with the support needed to make the right choices. Share this information with your family and help fight childhood obesity. Let’s help make our children’s future a healthy one.

How do you make sure your child is living a healthy and active lifestyle?

Reviewed by Melissa Hendrickson, RN and Director of Health Services at Penfield Children’s Center.

Boyse, Kyla, RN. “Television and Children.” Your Child Development & Behavior Resources, A Guide to Information and Support for Parents. 4 October 2013. University of Michigan Health System. http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm.

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