Written by Angela Silva
The data doesn’t lie: according to a 2014 report from the Center for Disease Control, nearly one-third of all children ages 2–19 are overweight or obese. Parents of obese children wonder what to do to make the future brighter for their kids, but misconceptions exist that propel childhood obesity forward.
The percentages of obese or overweight children have been increasing over the past few decades and have more than tripled in the past 40 years. Chances are, you know or are even related to a child who suffers from the effects of being overweight or obese.
So what can you do to intervene and change the course for your child and your family?
The first step is for parents to examine their own diet and fitness habits. According to a report from the University of Michigan, children have an 80 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese if they have an overweight or obese parent.
However, parent behavior is just one of the factors contributing to this alarming occurrence. This epidemic is the result of a combination of environmental, behavioral, and genetic factors, but the biggest culprits can easily be identified. These include:
- An increased availability of fast food and “junk” food
- Significantly reduced and sometimes nonexistent physical activity among most children
- Increased time in front of TVs and other screens
- Less physical education in schools
- A lack of community resources that contribute to or encourage physical activity
Of course there are other uncontrollable factors, such as genetics, but physical activity and caloric intake are perhaps the two biggest modifiable factors that can make a large impact.
Before you intervene or change anything, consult with your child’s doctor to get accurate data. He or she can properly assess your child’s health and give recommendations based on his or her prognosis.
But after the consultation you need to make a plan. Just like gaining weight, which happens over the course of many years, getting to a healthy weight will also take time and will, ideally, become a lifetime effort. Indeed, the best approach to combat obesity is an active defense in order to prevent it. This is why it’s important to not only discuss and make changes with your child, but to get the whole family involved.
- Have family dinner together. You are more likely to eat unhealthy foods and skip the fruits and veggies if you eat separately. Studies show that families who eat together eat more fruits and veggies and less fried and fast food than families who do not.
- Keep the TV and screens off during family meals.
- Eat slowly and start with small portions, adding more if you still feel hungry. Pay attention to your body’s signals that tell you when you’re full or still hungry. Teach your family to do this as well.
- Don’t enforce eating everything on the plate. This will cause overeating.
- Set an example of healthy eating and active living, and show your children how fun and simple it can be. Kids will do as you do, not as you say.
- Set goals each week for healthy eating habits and physical activity. This can be as simple as eating one more serving of vegetables per day, or walking around the block once per day.
- Implement a rewards system to praise good behavior and choices – make sure the rewards are not food-related.
- Identify any emotional triggers for you and your family that may signal indulging or overeating. Seek professional help if the emotional issues are more serious.
- Evaluate your family’s screen time habits and set goals accordingly. Encourage and help each other, never belittling or talking down to each other.
- Plan family activities that require movement, rather than just telling the kids to go exercise.
“All children are born with an inherent ability to manage their appetite. However, over time, this intuition can be lost due to the types of foods offered, how they’re offered, and outside pressures to eat more or certain things.” -Child nutrition expert Jill Castle, MS, RD, jillcastle.com
The Most Important Concept: DO NOT QUIT!
It may feel like the progress is slow and perhaps even stagnant at times, but resist the desire to give up. You will never reach your goals if you stop trying. Your family’s health and wellbeing, as well as your own, is worth every effort you will make. If life becomes stressful and you feel things are getting worse, try a new angle or talk to a medical professional about getting on a formal weight-control program.
The hazards and health risks associated with obesity are very serious. The social and emotional effects from being an overweight or obese child are also serious and significant. Decide today, right now, that you will do all that you can to improve the health and quality of life for your child and your family. Set an example and make a plan for a better, healthier future today.