Children becoming overweight and obese is a growing problem, especially in developed countries such as the United States. A number of factors are at the root of this issue, but parents can play their role to help tackle the problem.
Studies show that computers, video games, and TV have all increased sedentary behavior and decreased the physical activity level of young people. The snacking habits that accompany tech entertainment have become more and more common, while TV advertising consistently reinforces the idea that a meal consists of a burger and fries, or a bag of chips and a chocolate bar.
So what can parents do to get their children on the right nutritional track and give them the tools to build a healthy lifestyle? Read on for some good advice on how to help children maintain a healthy weight.
If you’re a parent, your best chance of influencing your children toward a healthy lifestyle is by setting a good example with your own eating and exercise habits.
According to Mayo Clinic, if parents set a good example and make healthy eating and regular physical activity a family affair, everyone will benefit and no one will feel singled out. According to studies, children of parents who exercise are about six times more likely to be active than are children whose parents are sedentary. The studies also show that a child has a 50 percent chance of obesity if one parent is obese and 80 percent if both are.
If you know your household could do with some healthy changes, start small by introducing healthy snacks and replacing some TV time with outdoor recreational activities – even something as simple as a walk to the park or some time throwing a ball around can set the pace for a better lifestyle.
Always be available and encouraging yourself, and remember to play fair. For instance, when you limit your kids’ TV time, limit your own as well. Parents set the bar, and kids will notice if they chin up to it!
Children, and sometimes their parents as well, need to learn that “exercise” is not equivalent to corporal punishment.
To get your family more active, plan fun activities that can involve everyone. If hiking, biking, swimming and rollerblading are too far afield from the family’s established TV-watching patterns, more subtle changes can effectively give those sofa cushions a break. For example, get into the habit of an after-dinner walk or bike ride. And playing with the kids can be great fun! Chasey, hopscotch, skipping, or any game that involves some running around can give everyone a workout. Got a hoop over the carport? Why not find the basketball that goes with it and start bouncing. A family garden is another great way to get everyone outside – and eating more fresh vegetables.
Of course, children always outgrow playing with Mom and Dad. For the sedentary teen who is, or is becoming obese, pushing the exercise issue may be counter-productive. Get them active in things that already interest them. Sports, martial arts, skateboarding, dance and gymnastics all exist outside of TV and video games. Encourage them to try the real thing.
Creating A Healthy Eating Environment
Everyone knows that meals in a busy household are mostly quick and easy. However, this does not mean McDonald’s and KFC should be the in-house cooks! If your household’s current routine is primarily one of scattered schedules and haphazard mealtimes, try some of these tips for a change:
- Stock up on fruits and veggies: Stock your fridge and pantry with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain-based products, and meats that are low in fat. Having more nutritious foods at hand prevents that last-minute dash for take-away.
- Keep sugary snacks away from the home: Avoid the temptation of high-fat and sugary snack foods by not having them in the house. Remember that fruit is the original fast food. Serve snacks of bananas, strawberries, tomatoes, carrot and celery sticks; add some low-fat vegetable dip for interest.
- Make cooking a part of your whole family’s routine: Get the kids involved in the preparation, and have them learn to put together healthy school lunches and snacks.
- Make water the beverage of choice in your household: Soft drinks and most juices only provide “empty calories” which do nothing but add weight. Low-calorie soft drinks are an okay choice, but still need to be limited.
- Encourage your kids to eat breakfast: A quick calorie-controlled, high-fiber cereal with low-fat milk and fruit will help morning concentration at school. A study found that skipping breakfast was significantly related to obesity. Not eating breakfast usually results in high-calorie snacks at break-times and lunch.
- Avoid desserts that are high in fat and/or sugar: Fresh fruit is an ideal way to finish the meal; or try some low-fat desserts.
- Don’t force your kids: If your child is not hungry, then don’t try to force-feed or eating will soon lose its pleasure. Your efforts to prepare a meal can still be appreciated despite an uncleared plate. If a very small amount of food is eaten, ensure that desserts and snacks are not available.
- Don’t use food as a reward or punishment: Avoid using food as a rewarding tactic, or withholding it as a punishment. Specifically depriving your child of certain foods can result in his/her overeating whenever there’s a chance.
- And no TV during meals!
Support at home
The teasing, name-calling, and isolation overweight kids endure outside the home are difficult and painful. Home, to borrow the words of the inimitable Dr. Phil, should be “a soft place to land”. As a parent, it can be hard to figure out how to communicate sensitively, yet still, help deal with the social and emotional concerns of being overweight. Here are a few good guidelines:
- Let your child know that he or she is loved, regardless of his or her weight: When children feel appreciated and good about themselves, they’re more likely to make healthy choices for themselves.
- Commend them: Applaud your child’s strengths and abilities, and encourage activities that bring them out.
- Stay supportive: An overweight child doesn’t need a parent who is confrontational or derogatory. They need to know and feel that you are on their side.
- Set positive, realistic goals: An appropriate goal is for a child to maintain their current weight while growing normally in height. Instead of focusing specifically on losing a certain number of kilos, or not adding any more, set goals such as riding a bike or swimming for 20 minutes a day.
- Express a healthy attitude about your own body (even though you may have your own issues): When your child sees you enjoying physical activity and eating wisely, he or she is more likely to pick up on the life lesson.
- Do not prepare separate meals for an overweight child: This will only enhance the feeling of being different and might also be seen as a type of punishment. Healthy meals should be enjoyed by the entire family. It is only necessary to control the quantities eaten by an overweight child.