Childhood obesity is a growing problem in our country, but many parents feel helpless in the fight to help their kids lead healthier lives. Between an increase in unhealthy food products marketed toward children, as well as a more sedentary lifestyle due to technology obsession and the recent pandemic, it can feel almost impossible to teach our children how to make the best choices for their bodies. Genetics, the home environment, and metabolism can also play a role.
In America, about one in five children suffers from obesity. The CDC defines obesity as having a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile (parents, you can calculate your child’s BMI here). These children will be at risk for developing diseases such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone, and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and even heart disease. They may also face bullying in school as well as low self-esteem and problems socially. When children suffer from obesity, they are likely to carry it into adulthood, at which time a whole other set of issues may emerge. All-in-all, maintaining a healthy weight for each body type is incredibly important in overall health. So, how do we help our children take on healthy lifestyle changes without contributing to body-image shaming?
It starts with you
Kids watch adults and mimic them. So, as parents, teachers, and healthcare workers, we’re responsible for modeling healthy lifestyle choices. We can start with ourselves, by cleaning up our diets, exercising or moving more, and behaving in a way that promotes a healthy body image. If our children see positive changes happening in our lives, they may be more likely to want to jump in as well.
Move more. Much more!
Growing alongside the obesity epidemic and affecting it drastically is another one: the sedentary lifestyle. Human bodies, especially those of children, were meant for lots of varied movement EVERY day. Children today spend much more time sitting indoors than children of past generations. Ensuring your child has a good amount of movement every day — at least 60 minutes — is key in living a healthy lifestyle.
Technology is one reason for an increase in inactivity for children. It is important for us as parents to teach our children to use tech wisely, again, through modeling. We can begin by setting limits and sticking to them. We can also use technology to help with movement. There is a plethora of exercise apps that encourage children to get off the couch and onto a yoga mat, run around the block, or lift weights!
Make healthy food choices
Diet is another way to promote healthy lifestyle choices in children. Teach children about food groups, invite them into the kitchen, get them interested in what they’re eating. If you don’t know how to cook, take a cooking class together. Children have a naturally curious mind, and the more they learn about nutrition, the better the choices they will be able to make.
One great place to start is by making sure to include plenty of fresh foods in your family’s diet. While grocery shopping, do your best to avoid packaged snack foods, opting for healthy fruits or vegetables instead. Proteins, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, and whole grains are other great sources of vitamins and minerals. You should also make the switch from juices or sodas, which are full of empty calories and sugars, to water.
Tracking your child’s growth and helping them establish healthy sleeping habits are also keys to a healthy weight-management strategy. Although many children suffer from the current obesity epidemic, we can do things as parents, teachers, and healthcare providers to help them make healthier choices. By modeling healthy ways of living, we teach our children so much about the world. And remember, as a parent, you control the environment. If you don’t buy it, they won’t eat it. If you insist they walk around the block with you every day, they’ll have to walk! You get the idea, right? So, let’s support the next generation in making healthy choices and living their best lives. This month is a great time to get started!