Tackle Childhood Obesity


obesityIs your child FAT?? Obesity in children can lead to asthma and the early onset of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Kids are getting fatter and a big chunk of the blame may lie with mom and dad who are often the last to notice their kids are overweight.

Childhood obesity stems from less time playing and more time spent plopped in front of a TV or computer screen. Other factors: too much exposure to advertising to low-quality food, less parental oversight on food choices, more high-calorie drinks, and fewer high-fiber foods.

Parents have to be role models. We can’t tell our kids to get up from the television and go play while we take the charge of the remote. We have to let kids see we’re exercising. We have to involve kids in taking walks after dinner, crazy dancing or any activity. Part of the problem is that kids are not eating well and exercising and neither are their parents. Childhood obesity is exploding. Adult obesity has been increasing in prevalence by leaps and bounds. Kids don’t have much in the way of role models.

The last thing you should do as a parent is put your child on a traditional food-restricting diet. Telling a child something is off limits will only serve to boost the burden on their strained shoulders. And last but not the least, be prepared to practice what you preach.

Don’t know where to start? Here are some proven tips for you and your child to get on the road to a healthy lifestyle.

Take a good look at yourself. At least 80 percent of overweight children have overweight parents. Genetics is not the only reason. Consider whether you encourage your children to be sedentary or to eat poorly, either directly or indirectly. Parental influences are decisive, because the dietary patterns set in childhood tend to be permanent. Be prepared to make changes in your own behaviors to become a good role model. You might even want to turn the tables and ask your kids to give you stars or stickers for exercising more or making better food choices.

Teach your child how to tell when he/she is hungry. Learning to recognize the sensations of hunger and satiety may help a child avoid the kind of mindless eating that causes excess weight. Respect natural hunger instincts and don’t insist young children finish everything on their plates. It’s your job to put healthy food on their plate; it’s their job to decide what and how much to eat.

Get more active, in big and little ways. Studies have found that even fidgeting helps maintain normal weight, so clearly any amount of exercise can have a beneficial effect. Start small. Take the stairs rather than the escalator, park a block away from your destination, and get off the bus one or two stops early. Work up to a total of 45 minutes of exercise (done all at once or throughout the day). If you take a positive approach toward movement, your children will too. Even the mundane household chores — sweeping, washing the car, vacuuming, etc. — can seem like fun.

Cut back on TV, video and computer time. Kids spend more time watching a small screen than they do at any other activity… except sleeping! No child should have a TV in his or her bedroom. Limit your children’s free-time use of the TV, video and computer to just one hour a day during the week (you can loosen up a little on the weekends). This frees up time for physical activity and reduces the number of ads for junk food and junk behavior that your children see.

Stress high-value over low-value foods. Overweight children might not eat a greater volume of food than normal-weight children, but their choices may be higher in empty calories from added fat and sugar. Educate your child as to which foods are for “every day” and which are for “occasional” consumption through the casual conversations you have while buying, preparing, or eating food together.

Make sure there are always every day foods available in the house and in the car. Keep low-calorie, high-impact foods like carrot sticks, nonfat yogurt, and apples handy. You might even put a fresh fruit plate out during the hours when snacking is most likely to occur.

Eat meals together. Sit down together at the table. You not only gain more control over what your children eat, but you also improve the chance everyone will get a nutritionally complete meal. Family dinner is most important, but don’t forget overseeing breakfast too. Breakfast is the main source of fiber, vitamins and minerals for many. Parents can be role models by eating a good first meal too.

Think about serving size. Think about what constitutes a single serving. Love for your spouse or children is demonstrated by the extra-large size serving but by a nutritionally complete meal that has been thoughtfully provided. Toddlers, for instance, need only small amounts of a variety of foods, not heaping servings.

Don’t buy soda except for special occasions. Overweight children and adults get too many calories from sodas and fruit drinks. Water tastes great, is good for the body, and contains zero calories. As alternatives, you can add a little fruit juice to sparkling water for a refreshing drink or blend nonfat milk or soymilk with fruit and yogurt for a great-tasting healthy milkshake.

Treat obesity as a family issue. Research suggests obesity in children is difficult to control unless the whole family is involved. Don’t single out the overweight child for special treatment. Everyone in the family should be eating well and exercising. Remember: children don’t change, families do.