Although keeping your kids healthy is a top priority during every day of the year, September has been designated a National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month to give us an extra reminder. This is a time to refresh your memory about the risks of obesity in children and ways to help your kids maintain a healthy weight through all stages of their lives.
For National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, here are some tips for improving your child’s relationship with food, exercise, and a naturally healthy lifestyle overall.
Photo credit: Yellowstone National Park via Flickr
What Contributes to Childhood Weight Gain?
Obesity is considered to be a disease, and it’s a complex one, especially in children. The largest contributors to childhood obesity are lifestyle factors, such high-calorie foods and not getting enough exercise. However, genetics and hormones can also play a part in a child’s weight.
Excessive stress caused by family issues can cause childhood obesity if a child uses overeating to cope with emotions. Children live in poverty or who grow up in remote communities may not have access to the healthy foods they need to grow. Meanwhile, some medications that children take have weight gain as a side effect, such as the steroid, prednisone, and the SSRI antidepressant, Paxil.
Risks of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity continues to be an increasing problem in the U.S., and an estimated one in five American children is obese. There are a lot of problems that come with packing on extra pounds, such as heightened risks for heart disease, diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and joint pain. Children who are obese often remain obese into their teenage years and adulthood, leading to long-term health problems and reduced quality of life over time.
Establishing Healthy Eating Habits
From an early age, children should not be taught to be afraid of food or gaining weight Instead, they need to learn healthy eating habits to get the nutrients they need to grow and develop.
Avoid buying sugary, salty, and high-fat snacks so that temptations aren’t readily available around the house. Instead, stock the kitchen with a variety of healthy snack options, such as celery with peanut butter, grapes, bananas, almonds, yogurt, and granola.
Understanding Portion Sizes
It’s easy to overeat when you aren’t paying attention to the quantity and quality of your food. Read nutrition labels and keep this information in mind when serving meals and snacks to kids. For kids’ meals, it can be helpful to use divided plates with one quarter section for protein, one quarter section for whole grains, and the other half of the plate for fruits and vegetables.
Physical Activity for Children
Kids’ bodies were designed to move, and kids up to age five should be active all throughout the day. During the school-age years, six- to 17-year-olds need to be physically active for at least an hour each day, but preferably more than that with physical education classes, extracurricular activities, and playtime at home. To reduce the amount of time that kids are sedentary, limit screen time to less than two hours per day.
Being a Good Role Model
Healthy eating and exercise habits start at home, which means that parents and caregivers need to be good role models for children to observe. Fortunately, this can be more fun than just signing up for a family gym membership and involve everything from hiking adventures on nearby trails to bike rides through the park, walks around the neighborhood after dinner, and playing sports in the backyard. Pack more picnic lunches to avoid the convenience of fast food takeout, and look for clever ways to sneak more activity into your kids’ days, such as parking at the far end of a store parking lot or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.