We've all read the news – obesity has become a worldwide epidemic. Two-thirds of adults and one third of children in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Changes in how we eat combined with more sedentary lifestyles are the biggest contributing factors. Why is this trend so troubling, and what's important to know, as a parent, to help keep your kids healthy?
What are the health risks of childhood obesity?
Helping children eat well and stay active is important for their future health. Overweight children are at higher risk for chronic health conditions that can last into adulthood, including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, asthma, sleep apnea, joint problems and type 2 diabetes.
Being overweight can also affect kids emotionally. Children with obesity can be bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers, and can also suffer from social isolation, depression and low self-esteem.
Is your child overweight?
Looking at fashion or popular culture images, it's easy to forget that there are a wide variety of body types that are healthy and normal. This is also true for children and adolescents.
As kids grow, there are differences in how their bodies use fat based on age and gender. Remember it's not just about weight – athletes can weigh more than their peers (muscles weigh more than fat). Talk to your pediatrician to assess whether your child is at a healthy weight and body composition for their body at their age.
What can parents do to promote a healthy weight?
Promoting a healthy weight sounds easy. Balance the calories consumed from foods and beverages with the calories used through physical activity and normal growth.
But we all know that weight and body image can be emotionally charged issues, and that change does not happen easily. Conversations with a child about weight are tough for any parent. Steer clear of calling kids "fat," "thin," or other terms that make a judgment about their appearance. And seek help from your health care provider. If your child is overweight, they can suggest a healthy plan to reduce the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Children should not be placed on a weight reduction diet without professional guidance.
Parents modeling healthy eating supports the development of healthy behaviors in children. Some tips from the experts:
Take moderate portions. Limit junk food in the house. Drink water and milk instead of soda.
Enjoy eating together as a family
Try to eat meals as a family – studies show that children eat more fruits and vegetables when they eat with their parents. Include foods from all food groups—milk, fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, fish and beans.
Positive attitudes about healthy foods are contagious!
There are lots of websites with family-friendly healthy recipe ideas, including choosemyplate.gov.
Helping your kids get enough activity
Did you know that American kids (age two and up) spend an average of 3 hours a day watching television and a total of 5-7 hours daily looking at screens? Experts suggest limiting screen time to no more than 2 hours daily, and encouraging kids to be active at least 60 minutes a day. Some suggestions to help your kids get moving:
Find a fun activity. Help your child find a sport that they enjoy, so they are more likely to continue it. Get the entire family involved for a great way to spend time together.
Be a role model. Children who regularly see their parents enjoying physical activities are more likely be active.
Play with your child. A game of tag with your preschooler is a lot more fun than 50 crunches by yourself!
Kids don't need to get all their exercise in at once: shorter blocks of movement count – even simple things, like walking to school, can help them stay fit.
There are lots of opportunities for organized sports in our communities through the schools and Parks and Rec. As kids get older, organized sports can offer opportunities for socialization and friendship as well as physical benefits.
Don't forget to encourage healthy sleep for your kids. Studies show that too little sleep can also lead to overeating. Talk to your pediatrician about how much sleep is right for your child at their age.