There’s nothing cuter than a chubby-cheeked baby. But when you consider that according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the prevalence of childhood obesity is growing at an exponential rate, it may cause you to reexamine this idea. And when you further learn that the repercussions of childhood obesity carry into adulthood—and lead to long-term negative health consequences—it may cause you to worry. And it should.
What's at Risk?
Childhood obesity is a serious issue. Overweight or obese children have a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea. “Sadly, these conditions and [others] that were once very rare in children are now being diagnosed with much greater frequency among kids who are obese or overweight,” says Tamara Walker, RN and host of the Ask MomRN show on www.blogtalkradio.com.
Obesity can also impact mental health. “Children who struggle with weight issues are at increased risk for depression, negative feelings of self-worth and being bullied,” continues Tamara. “They are at risk for trying dangerous diets or supplements to lose weight.” Bottom line? The negative effects of obesity can stay with a child for life.
Turn It Around
“Some health issues can be prevented, stopped or even reversed if proper measures are taken to help overweight or obese children lose weight and get healthy,” encourages Tamara. Obesity is most easily controlled through two main actions: eating healthy foods in sensible amounts and exercising or just moving more. This is something that virtually all experts agree on… but the catch is that it takes time. Time to plan meals, to shop for healthy foods, to cook from scratch, to participate in activities. And if you ask any mom these days, the scarcest commodity she has is time. So, what is the answer?
1. Eating Right
Devonne Carter, LPC, suggests that parents prioritize planning and creating healthy meals on busy workdays, much like they would plan for other after school activities. “Treat shopping for food and sitting down to a shared family meal like an extracurricular activity,” she urges. “Give it the time each night and focus on it as a family to underscore how important it is for your family to eat together and make healthful food choices.” Even if you have to trim an extracurricular activity from your schedule, if you show that you are purposefully making healthy eating a priority in your home, your children will take that example seriously.
And if your kids turn up their noses at the healthy food on their plates? Devonne suggests investing them in the process. “If you bring your kids shopping and let them help pick out what you’re going to cook, they’ll be much more willing to try something new,” says Devonne.
Chef and co-owner of Guilford Gardens, Kamala Gamble, takes it a step further: “Your kids will eat it if they grow it!” She recommends adding as many fruits and vegetables into your family’s diet as possible, any way you can (even if you have to be sneaky about it) and even if it’s not organic (though the produce she grows is).
And eating right doesn’t have to be expensive. A recent TIME Magazine article featuring well-known cardiologist, author and television host Dr. Mehmet Oz stated that often, frozen vegetables are as healthy as—or even healthier than—their fresh, organic (and often more expensive) counterparts. So, good food choices are available at every price point, even to those with strict food budgets. Just keep your eye on the nutrition label to be sure that you’re not getting more than you bargain for in pre-packaged foods.
It may seem easier to visit the fast-food drive through on those evenings when you have errands to run or activities to shuttle the kids to, but healthier and less-expensive choices can usually be found if you plan ahead. Pack snacks and water in a small cooler if you must eat on the go, and you should see a beneficial impact to both your waistline and your budget.
2. Moving More
When it comes to physical movement, even small amounts can add up to provide a positive impact. “As kids are spending more time indoors and sedentary while connected to technology (such as) television, video games and computers, the obesity problem has caused some experts to predict that this generation may be the first to have a shorter life span than their parents,” cautions Tamara.
The Mayo Clinic recommends several creative ideas for keeping kids active:
- Limit recreational screen time to two hours or less per day. And no mindless snacking!
- Put the emphasis on activity, not exercise. Free play activities (such as tag or jumping rope) are both effective and fun.
- Find activities your child likes. This seems obvious, but don’t try to force a kid who’s afraid of the water to swim.
- Be a good example. Participate together.
- Change it up. Make it fun and try lots of different activities.
While it’s important to consult your family doctor before an exercise regime is begun, it’s always a good idea to simply start moving more. Adding just a few extra minutes of movement to your routine each day will have a positive impact on the overall health of your family. Go for a neighborhood walk after dinner, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, park in the farthest spot away from the door; find ways to move a little more. And make it fun for your kids by turning it into a competition—get each family member a pedometer and see who can get the highest step count at the end of each day.
3. Model Good Behavior
This third action is perhaps the most important: if you want your children to eat healthy foods and exercise, you also have to eat healthy foods and exercise.
But, again; it all comes back to time. And often, we’ve grown up with nutritional role models that perhaps were not the most ideal. Convenience foods have become the norm in our society, and families have moved away from whole, natural foods, which contain fewer modifications (such as added chemicals or sugar) and more nutrition. Kamala says, “I like the advice of Food Rules author Michael Pollan: ‘Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.’”
Where can you start?
- Make the time. There is no way around this.
- Read food labels when shopping and pay attention to portion sizes when eating.
- Talk about healthy food choices with your kids.
- Plan ahead and have healthy choices available.
Changing the way your family eats and moves may seem daunting; but when you consider that the future health of your family may depend on it, it’s certainly worth the effort involved.
Mari Farthing is the Editor of MetroFamily Magazine.