September is National Childhood Obesity month: a month dedicated, among medical professionals, to drawing attention to a growing problem across America. According to the CDC, almost 1 in 5 children across the United States struggle with obesity. Children with obesity face a few potential challenges, including:
- Increased risk of asthma
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Bone and joint problems
- Increased chance of sleep apnea
- More risk factors for heart disease and high blood pressure
- Higher likelihood of teasing or bullying from normal-weight peers
Obese children also have a higher likelihood of obesity when they reach adulthood, leaving them at risk for a range of other health problems as adults. Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use to help reduce the odds of childhood obesity and keep your child healthier.
#1: Set a good example yourself.
Obesity is often the result of a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating choices. If you want your children to make healthy choices with regards to food and exercise, it's important to set a good example yourself! Find a type of exercise that you enjoy, avoid eating your feelings, and develop a healthy relationship with food, both for yourself and for your children. Children will often model what they see, and poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle can be passed on to the next generation. When you model good eating habits and healthy activity, on the other hand, your child will be more likely to do the same.
#2: Get active as a family.
When you participate in a range of activities as a family, you'll find that it's easier to keep your child engaged and excited. Becoming active as a family helps everyone get healthier and sets up a sense of accountability that can keep both you and your child moving on a regular basis. Try some of these strategies:
- Play games together.
- If your child participates in a sport, practice with them.
- Go for walks together. Make it part of your regular routine so that you don't forget!
- Go exploring together: hike, check out your town or city on foot, or look for theme parks, zoos, aquariums, and other places that encourage active involvement with the exhibits.
- Take the stairs together.
#3: Encourage your child to get involved in a sport.
Sports build a number of important life skills for your child. Not only will a child who participates in a sport naturally be more active, especially as he starts to practice at home, but he will be less likely to get bored, and so therefore less likely to mindlessly eat. On top of that, sports teach teamwork, build commitment, and teach leadership skills. If your child isn't interested in the typical sports offered in many elementary schools, consider what type of activity he does enjoy. Try karate, dance, swimming, or running: all great activities that can help foster a lifelong love of movement in your child.
#4: Turn off the TV.
Limiting screen time has become increasingly important for many families across the United States, especially those struggling with childhood obesity. Screen time is often highly sedentary time. Children who are watching television aren't getting up and moving, and they're much more likely to engage in mindless eating even when they aren't hungry. Limit screen time to 1-2 hours a day, especially for younger kids, who need to get away from the television and explore the world around them. When kids are home from school, encourage them to go outside and play for an hour or two before settling in front of the television.
#5: Get plenty of sleep at night.
Children who don't get enough sleep at night simply don't feel like being active. Not only that, limiting sleep makes many people--children and adults alike--more likely to overeat or to indulge in unhealthy foods in an effort to improve mood or get a fast energy boost. Make sure you check out the American Academy of Pediatrics sleep recommendations for your child's age, and do what you can to ensure that they get the right amount of sleep each night. A well-rested child is in a much better position to roll out of bed the next morning ready to take on the world.
#6: Make healthy snacks readily available.
Kids want convenience--and many of them aren't old enough to cook up their favorite foods yet, either. Whether they're coming in hungry after a long day at school or looking for something to much on, they're more likely to reach for whatever prepackaged snack is handy than they are to go digging for something healthy. When you stock your kitchen, make sure you stock it with plenty of healthy options. Apples, bananas, and grapes are easy to keep close at hand, while applesauce pouches, cheese sticks, raisins, and nuts make great snacks when your family is on the go.
#7: Talk about why healthy eating is important.
Even in a child already struggling with obesity, the focus of healthy eating should not be weight loss. Instead, teach kids about how healthy foods provide them with the energy they need to handle their tasks throughout the day. Discuss how healthy foods can help prevent them from getting sick, and what unhealthy foods can do to their bodies--not just increasing fat, but also leaving them slow and sluggish, creating blood sugar spikes and valleys, and increasing the risks of certain types of illness. Make a healthy a diet a priority in your home, not just for the kids, but for the entire family. Of course, it's important to keep in mind that kids will take in what they see as well as what they hear, so model healthy eating for the entire family. Try to avoid restricting food quantity unless your child has a genuine problem that needs to be addressed by a doctor; instead, provide open access to healthy foods, and teach your child to listen to their body.
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