As a parent or concerned guardian, you may already be aware of the rising percentage of obesity in children. The good news is that whether you’re looking to take preventive measures or reverse unhealthy habits, there are a variety of things you can do that will facilitate healthy growth and development. Below are some tips and tools that the whole family can benefit from, and that your children can take with them into adulthood.
It’s important to understand the root of the problem and recognize the ways in which your child might be affected. Some common causes include:
- A diet filled with highly processed foods and sugars
- Eating too much
- Lack of physical activity
- Home life where parents are sedentary or set poor examples of health
- Environmental influences such as advertisements and peers
While the causes may seem fairly straightforward, the effects may not be. They range from physical to emotional to social, and can include:
- A higher rate of depression
- Social isolation
- Elevated blood pressure
- Back and joint pain
- Lesser ability to participate and keep up in team sports
Now that you know how your child may be affected, let’s talk about some ways to prevent or reverse unhealthy habits.
BE A ROLE MODEL
If you’re not already, you have to start by doing what you’re asking your kids to do. A family has the power to shape a healthy lifestyle for their child. It’s the fundamental support system that provides the first look at proper nutrition and physical activity. Go for a walk together. Take a family bike ride. Sit down for family meals instead of eating on the go. Even involve children in food preparation so they can really understand and appreciate what goes into a healthy meal.
REPLACE JUNK FOOD WITH QUALITY FOOD
The focus should never be on restricting calories from a child’s diet, but rather restricting the type of foods they eat. That means including more veggies, protein, fruit, eggs, meat, beans, nuts, and fish. Things like soda, juice, sugar, energy drinks, and highly processed sugared foods that come in a box or bag should be highly regulated. There’s a time for treats, like Halloween or birthdays, but it should be a special occasion.
If you have a picky eater, always try to put something on their plate they will eat, along with something new they can taste. If they absolutely refuse to taste it, don’t force it and try again tomorrow. When you try to force kids to eat healthily, it creates conflict and makes eating stressful. A vast majority of kids will eventually expand their palate so don’t give up.
This also applies to snacks. Try to replace unhealthy snacks, especially at night, with a healthier choice. Most times, if children don’t want something like cheese, fruit, or nuts, then they may not truly be hungry.
INCREASE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Kids should be active every day. It doesn’t have to be at a gym, or on a team sport, just get them moving. Maybe they can walk the dog. Or run around with friends. Or maybe it’s just a matter of finding a sport they’re passionate about. There’s always time for exercise, you just have to make time for it.
You can even use physical activity to replace screen time. The recommendation is no more than two hours of total screen time each day. That includes TV, iPads, phones, etc. In fact, many kids can easily spend two hours alone browsing social media channels, which can keep them up at night and cause them to be exhausted the next day. Restricting screen time will not only get kids moving, but it can also promote better sleep.
If you have a child who is obese, the first step is acknowledging their condition, and then taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle. Don’t focus on their weight, and instead focus on their health. That means eating real foods and being active every day. If they do this, their health will fall into place. Most children who work at it, and are motivated for the right reasons, can turn their health around and do an awesome job at it. And if you feel like you need additional guidance, talk with your child’s doctor about creating a plan that is a good fit for them.