Reining in Childhood Obesity
With the ever increasing rates of obesity among Americans, it is no wonder that the incidents of childhood obesity is also on the rise. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years, and is now being seen as a major public health concern. In addition to serious health complications such as diabetes, increased risk of heart disease, and increased risk of cancer, childhood obesity also has some serious mental health risks. Children that are obese are at a higher risk for developing anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and distorted peer relationships.
As parents, it is our duty to keep our children safe and out of harm’s way as best as possible. So while we make sure our children are wearing their seat-belts, not running with scissors, and not talking to strangers, why are we not managing what they are eating and encouraging healthy choices? The likelihood of a child getting hurt by running with scissors is slim compared to the likelihood of sever medical and emotional complications due to obesity. I have compiled some simple and easy tips for parents on how to rein in, or help prevent, childhood obesity.
Cut out soda, and limit sports drinks and juice:
Everyone knows that soda is full of empty calories and high in sugar, so why are you still giving it to your child? One soda contains close to 200 calories and 39grams of sugar. One soda a day, over a one year period, equates to 20.8lbs of weight gain! Today is a good day to kick that habit. While several people think sports drinks are a healthy alternative to soda, this is not the case. Sports drinks also contain unnecessary added calories and sugar. The commonly thought of value from sports drinks is electrolytes. Unless your child has just engaged in a vigorous activity or sports game, he/she is probably not deprived of many electrolytes and can do without. Limit the amount of juice you give your child. While juice can have some benefit for children such as high levels of vitamins, it is also packed full of sugar and high in calories. When shopping for juice, read the nutrition labels and look for the juice with the fewest ingredients; the less ingredients something has, the more natural it is. When we consume products as close as possible to their natural state, our bodies are able to process and utilize them much more efficiently. A great alternative to soda, sports drinks, and juice is flavored water. Flavored water that has zero calories and no added sugar can still satisfy your child’s sweet palate while giving the body the water that it craves. Win, win.
Make healthier food choices:
Junk foods such as chips, crackers, sweets, fried/breaded foods, and white breads/pasta provide high calories and fewer nutrients compared to their healthier counterparts. Some great, healthy, alternatives to everyday food choices include: replacing fried/breaded meats with broiled or grilled lean meats, replacing unhealthy desserts for a portion of fruit in the evening, replacing white breads/pastas with whole wheat options, eating egg whites instead of eggs with the yolk, replace a McDonald’s meal with a lite Subway sandwich, instead of bagels bites for an afternoon snack try celery or an apple with 2 tbsp of peanut butter, I could go on and on but I will stop for the sake of time and space. There are so many healthy alternatives to everyday foods that people love, and they taste just as good, if not better! If you’re having a hard time getting your child to eat these new healthy foods, the best thing you can do is be a positive role model. If that doesn’t work, and you have a very stubborn child…it’s time to be a parent and set limits. Give them a few healthy options of what they can eat, and then let them have a choice of whether they would like one of the food options or whether they would like to choose not to eat. That may sound harsh, but remember…if you can tell your child not to run with scissors, you can tell your child what they cannot eat; you are protecting your child’s well-being.
Encourage being active:
In modern society, it’s so easy for kids to get distracted by computers, video games, and television, and easy for parents to allow for this to happen. Often times, parents think that their children are safe inside, and out of harm’s way; there is no outside threat. However, by allowing children to stay inside, memorized by technology, you’re allowing for your child to be in harm’s way. Obesity is a silent killer. Just because obesity does not pose an immediate threat to your child, does not mean that the threat isn’t there. American’s are so prone to immediate gratifications or consequences, that often times we forget about delayed consequences (such as obesity) that can be just as, if not more, harmful. So, again, the best thing you can do is be a positive role model for your child. Plan fun activities outdoors, go for bike rides or walks, play with the dogs, play hide and seek, go to a local field and play their favorite sport with them, go to a local swimming pool, etc etc. Make it fun. Don’t’ make it about losing weight, or exercise.
Just these few simple changes can decrease the risk of childhood obesity. As a parent, by leading by example, encouraging healthy choices, and setting boundaries when necessary, you are welcoming a healthy lifestyle for both you and your child.