Being overweight or obese as an adult can be detrimental to your health, but being overweight as a child can have even more serious consequences on your health in the future. Childhood obesity has been linked to cancer, diabetes, liver disease, and even mental health problems later in life. If you’re concerned about your own kids’ risk of being overweight or obese, there are some strategies you can implement today to help them avoid such issues in the future. In this article we focus on covering the basics.
Risk Factors for childhood obesity
You probably already know that having a poor diet can lead to childhood obesity. But did you know that there are other factors that may contribute to childhood obesity, including poverty and gender. Childhood poverty is often associated with several unhealthy habits such as smoking or eating poorly. A girl who is overweight at age 9, for example, has a 70% higher chance of being overweight by 14 than a girl who isn’t overweight at age 9. That same study found that a 10-year-old boy who has two obese parents has twice as much body fat as one whose parents aren’t obese. This highlights the fact that having obese parents is another risk factor. The bottom line is that the main risk factors include, a poor diet, parents who have a poor diet or smoking and other unhealthy habits. So leading my example is critical for parents who wish to help curb childhood obesity.
Ways to reduce the risk of childhood obesity
Eating a healthy diet is a cornerstone in managing childhood obesity. However, there are other ways to reduce the risk. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recommends limiting screen time and getting plenty of exercise, for example. Additionally, many parents may not realize that some everyday household items could pose a threat. One way that’s evident is exposure to secondhand smoke, says Alice Goisis, Ph.D., an associate professor in epidemiology at McGill University and co-author of a recent paper examining child health and environmental exposures to tobacco products. “In one study we found that if you don’t smoke or don’t live with someone who smokes, it can increase their body mass index by 2%,” she says.
Strategy 1 – Eat Healthy
If you’re raising a family, you know how difficult it can be to get your kids (and yourself) to eat right. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has data on just how hard—and dangerous—it is: More than one-third of U.S. children are overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions in adulthood. Still, all hope is not lost: Eating well doesn’t have to mean cutting back on your favorite foods or packing lunches full of boring fruits and veggies only. Balance is key! Here are some tips from registered dietitians that can help you create healthy meals that even picky eaters will love.
For breakfast, choose foods that offer protein, fiber and healthy fats like egg whites and whole-grain toast; for lunch and dinner choose proteins such as chicken or fish with vegetables or whole grains like brown rice; for snacks enjoy fruit with nuts or seeds.
Strategy 2 – Increase Physical Activity
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents make an effort to increase their children’s physical activity. Making exercise fun can be as simple as letting them play in a neighborhood park, taking a walk after dinner or joining in on activities like family walks or bike rides. Be sure to encourage them by doing these activities yourself and offering praise when they participate. Your kids will also learn how much fun it is to move their bodies when you show them how easy it is for you and are excited about doing so.
Another way you can help your children get active is by ensuring they have enough physical education during school. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 60 minutes per day, which equates to about seven hours per week of physical activity, with even more exercise recommended for older children and teens. If schools don’t offer enough opportunities for exercise, talk with your child’s teacher about getting some added in at recess or lunchtime. You might also want to seek out after-school programs in your community that promote increased physical activity. Whether it’s organized sports or a martial arts class, there are plenty of options out there that can give your kids a healthy amount of exercise while they’re having fun.
Strategy 3 – Limit screen time
Getting your child to put down the laptop or to stop watching his or her favorite television show isn’t always easy, but it’s very important when it comes to health. That’s because limiting screen time encourages increasing physical activity. And we noted above that physical activity is important to maintaining a healthy weight. So be sure to put in place limits and boundaries around screen time.
Strategy 4 – Set a good example
As parents, it is important that we set a good example for our children. Exercising on a regular basis (or at least attempting to), as well as sticking to a healthy diet and being conscious about what we feed them will go a long way toward ensuring that our children follow suit. It also means that when it comes time for us to set guidelines on what foods they can and cannot eat, we are in a much better position to enforce those rules effectively. Being fit and health-conscious can be tricky for many busy parents who may lack both free time and proper guidance in order to get started.
It may seem daunting, but raising children today is an exciting and rich experience. With each generation we are realizing more about how nutrition affects development, so there’s never been a better time to make sure you’re setting your child up for success. Follow these five tips and start improving your child’s diet right away. You can feel confident knowing that what you do today will have a lasting impact on their future health—for years and years to come.