The battle to keep kids healthy
The percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity in our country has more than tripled (according to the Centers for Disease Control) in the past 40 years. In fact, the most recent data shows that nearly one in five school-age children and young adults is obese.
Now with COVID-19 causing activities to be cancelled and school to be conducted virtually, many children are facing an unwanted sedentary lifestyle, increasing their risk for obesity dramatically.
September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and this year this month has taken on special significance as parents and educators try to find ways to keep kids active while also following guidelines meant to keep them safe from COVID-19.
Experts say that inactivity has long been one of the two primary causes of childhood obesity. The other is the convenience and affordability of processed food. Unhealthy foods have become more readily available in our society over the past few decades at the same time that physical activity has decreased due to popular pastimes that are more sedentary, such as watching TV, playing video games, and surfing the web.
Being overweight or obese affects a child in countless ways, including socially, emotionally and physically. Children diagnosed with obesity are at a higher risk of developing other chronic health conditions including asthma; sleep apnea; bone and joint problems; high blood pressure and high cholesterol; and type 2 diabetes.
In the long term, an adult who was obese as a child is at higher risk for many types of cancer; metabolic syndromes; heart disease; and type 2 diabetes.
Emotionally and socially, children who are obese are more likely to be bullied and suffer from social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem.
While the solutions aren’t simple, there are many steps parents can take to help make their children’s diet and their overall health better.
Experts recommend making diet improvement a family goal, not just something the children have to do. They remind parents that children model their parents’ habits – and that includes their eating and exercise habits.
If you have a picky eater, one technique that may help is to get him or her more involved in the meal planning process – including grocery shopping and cooking. Research has found that kids are more willing to try new foods if they help to pick them out and get to participating in preparing them.
For many families, the ease of convenience foods often takes precedence over the time necessary to prep and cook fresh, whole foods. If that’s the case in your house, try to set aside time every weekend to plan ahead for that week’s meals.
By planning your menu, your grocery list and your prep time, you are more likely to stick to a nutritious meal plan. Prepping items ahead of time can be a huge help, like cutting up vegetables for the week to make easy grab and go snacks, or making dishes ahead of time that can be reheated for dinner on busy weeknights.
Another key strategy for parents is to limit their children’s access to problem foods. Try not to keep junk foods in the house, including sugary beverages. Many children will drink excessive calories through soda, juice or sports drinks.
Finally, if you are concerned about your child’s weight or diet, talk to your doctor. And know that it is never too late to make changes today that can have a lifetime of benefit.
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