By Cathe Friedrich
Childhood obesity is growing in epidemic proportions with one-third of American children being overweight or obese. Along with the high obesity rate, chronic illnesses that were once considered a problem for older adults only are now showing up in children as young as 10-years old. High blood pressure, heart disease and type-2 diabetes are among the diseases overweight and obese children are developing. A child becoming overweight does not happen overnight, it is a slow process of eating too much or eating unhealthy foods and getting too little exercise. It is important for parents to take charge of the family’s health and teach their children healthy lifestyle choices that will help them maintain a healthy weight.
Make Healthy Eating and Exercise a Family Affair
Helping an overweight or obese child lose weight or preventing child obesity has to begin with parents teaching children healthy lifestyle choices. Don’t just tell your children how to eat healthy, participate in a healthy lifestyle with them. Children learn what they see and live, so if parents are modeling healthy behaviors than it will rub off on the children. If your family hasn’t been eating healthy or exercising, then begin changing your lifestyle gradually to make the change easier for everyone. Making gradual changes together as a family will help turn bad habits into good ones without the burnout of trying to do it all at once.
Replace Unhealthy Snacks and Foods with Healthy Ones
Stop buying the high-fat, salty and high-carbohydrate snack foods and fill your refrigerator and cupboards with whole foods like Eggland’s Best eggs, fresh fruit, whole grain snacks, nuts and low-fat yogurt. Skip the sugary breakfast cereals and buy ones with bran or whole grains instead. Oatmeal with fresh fruit is a healthier alternative to cold cereals. Cut up carrots and serve with a low-fat dip as an alternative to serving cookies or snack cakes after school. Also, switch from whole milk to 1% or skim to cut back on fat. Healthier snacks will give children more energy and fill them up longer than sugary, fatty snacks while being low calorie.
Skip the Soda, Juice Boxes and High-Sugar Juice
Serving children soda, juice boxes and high-sugar juice is like handing them the sugar bowl and a spoon. Most of these products have little to no nutritional value and are loaded with sugar and calories. Check labels to make sure the fruit juice you buy doesn’t contain high quantities of sugar, high fructose corn syrup or glucose, all sugar products. Avoid vitamin water, flavored water and sports drinks also. Instead, serve your child fresh-squeezed fruit juice, water and low-fat or skim milk.
Limit Your Family’s Screen Time
We lead sedentary lives between television, computers, video games and cell phones and this can lead to bad eating habits and lack of exercise. Try to limit screen time to 2 hours a day per family member (not counting homework time on the computer). Yes, this means parents too. Don’t allow televisions or computers in the bedrooms and limit snacking while watching television. It’s easy to overeat while watching a movie or show so only allow healthy snacks like fruit or raw vegetables. Limiting time sitting in front of the television or computer will allow your family to spend more time outdoors doing some form of physical activity.
Get the Family Active
Exercise can be fun – you don’t have to join a gym or make the kids do calisthenics in order to get everyone to exercise. Take family walks in the evenings, hike, go biking, play a friendly game of basketball in the yard or toss the baseball around. If your kids enjoy sports, sign them up for their favorite activity. Take the kids to the public pool to swim. Everyone should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, so planning exercise together is good for the whole family whether you are a healthy weight or overweight.
Changing to a healthier lifestyle will take time and sometimes your family may have setbacks. The important thing to remember is you are trying to make healthy changes that will help your children lose weight or prevent them from forming lifetime habits that will cause obesity. Child obesity can be prevented, so start your family on the path to a healthier tomorrow.