Tags: food page, Health, Home & Food, In This Issue, Parenting, Pediatric Health
Combating Childhood Obesity
It's common knowledge that obesity is a serious problem in the U.S., affecting roughly one out of every three adults. However, what is perhaps most alarming about this trend is how it's affecting children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly one in every six U.S. children is obese. In fact, since 1980, the rate of obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled. As a result, these children are also being diagnosed with very serious – and, typically adult – problems, including sleep apnea, joint pain, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.
These are scary statistics – enough to make any parent feel overwhelmed and powerless. However, experts agree that by making just a few lifestyle changes, parents can help get their children's weight under control – and set them up for life-long success.
Defining the Problem
When it comes to raising a healthy kid, modern society sets parents up for failure. Suburbs aren't generally walking or biking friendly, video games are touted as "educational" options for young children, and many parents are afraid to let their kids venture too far from home for safety reasons. As a result, today's generation of kids is more sedentary than ever before, says Dr. Sandeep Gupta, a Pediatric Gastroenterologist at the Riley Hospital for Children.
In addition, today's unstable economy often requires that both parents work outside the home, which contributes to a rushed, too-few-hours-in-the-day tempo for the family. Because of this, Gupta explains that family time is often overlooked, home-cooked dinners are compromised for the convenience of fast food, and kids are left on their own to make healthy snacking decisions.
It may seem like the odds are stacked against your family -- but as parents become more informed on how to live healthfully and set a positive example, this problem could be drastically lessened.
Tod Esquivel, Youth Fitness Trainer and Owner of Indy Fit Kids, says that kids are naturally active; however, modern life is geared toward convenience and comfort.
"All of the conveniences of today's technology discourage [kids] from being active and essentially make them lazy," he says. As counterintuitive as it may seem, Esquivel says that being active actually creates more energy.
Jenni Purcell, a Registered Dietician with the American Dairy Association of Indiana, seconds the importance of daily physical activity, recommending that kids get at least 60 minutes each day. Sound like a lot? "Every bit adds up," she says, adding that it's easy to keep kids moving if they're doing different types of activities. "For example, kids can walk the dog for 20 minutes, play basketball for 30, and help wash the car for 10 minutes." Purcell adds that this goal is easily accomplished if parents limit the amount of television/video game time.
However, both Purcell and Esquivel stress that parents must be active with their kids. "Exercise is something parents and kids have to do together," Esquivel explains. "Parents must set good examples for their kids," he says.
The Family that Cooks Together…
While no one can dispute the value of physical exercise, instilling nutritious eating habits is arguably the most important factor in raising a healthy child. Elizabeth Blessing, co-founder and chief nutritionist for Green BEAN Delivery, says she firmly believes that diet is the biggest culprit in the current obesity epidemic. "The majority of food consumed in the country doesn't provide the proper nutrients that help the body to be healthy."
Adds Purcell, "there are several key food groups that kids need to eat from more often: low-fat and fat-free dairy; whole, fiber-rich grain foods; vibrantly colored vegetables; brightly colored fruits and 100 percent fruit juice; and lean proteins and nuts." She suggests that parents develop grocery lists and menus based around these foods, and always keep these healthy staples in the house.
In fact, by having wholesome food readily available, Blessing believes that it's easy for families to make healthy decisions. "Kids do not naturally have bad eating habits," she explains. "They learn bad eating habits. Parents must set a good example for their children. Eat the same foods as your kids at meals -- if you are eating leafy greens at dinner and enjoying them, eventually, so will your kids."
In addition to offering healthy foods at mealtime, it's crucial to get kids involved in the cooking process. For starters, Gupta suggests that parents encourage their children to go shopping with them at the store. "This will help the child understand the process of getting the foods on the table and also increases the likelihood of them trying new foods," she says.
On a similar note, Blessings reiterates that parents should get their kids in the garden and the kitchen. "When a child is able to see where their food comes from, and how it gets to the table, they'll be more excited to try new things," Blessing says.
Finally, parents should carve out time to incorporate exercise into the daily routine. Explains Gupta, "Children do not know that exercise is important to a healthy way of life. They need to learn this as they do anything else. Incorporate exercise into the days just like you would with their homework routine."
There are only so many hours in the day, and no one is perfect. However, by making family time a priority and instilling healthy habits in your children, parents can set their kids up for success.
What's more, all of the fresh eating and regular exercise will also help keep Mom and Dad healthy, which is truly one of the greatest gifts you can give to your kids.