Each month of the year has it’s own health observations to bring light to the wellness issues that impact our society. With children going back to school, this September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Growing obesity rates affect not only adults, but children and adolescents, too. Currently one out every five children in the United States is obese, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately with increasing obesity rates we also see an increase in related health conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea among children. Not only are obese children at a higher risk to become obese adults; but the risk factors associated with weight are more likely to be severe. These children also have a higher risk of being the target of bullying, having lower self-esteem and potential depression and behavioral issues.
Needless to say, there are many benefits to be had from making changes to curb childhood obesity and these changes start in the home. Here are some simple steps you can take:
- Limit high fat and high sugar foods. These may be the foods many children prefer, but they tend to run low on nutrition and high in calories. If you are having trouble making the transition with your children try making healthier versions of their favorite snacks. Stevia is a safe alternative sweetener to use to replace or reduce excess sugars. For example, you could sprinkle some stevia into plain yogurt and add some fruit to replace ice cream. To replace potato chips, try thinly slicing a sweet potato, spray it with olive oil and lightly season for homemade potato chips. (Bake at 425* for 20 minutes.) You can check out Stevia Benefits’ Back to School Pinterest board for more ideas for kid-friendly foods that cut down on excess fat and sugar.
- Eat together as a family. Studies have found that families that eat dinner together most days of the week have children that are less likely to be obese are likelier to have healthier eating habits. Participating in family dinners can also decrease your child’s risk of developing disordered eating patterns, as well. Even beyond all these benefits, family dinners are a great way to take time to slow down and enjoy time together as family.
- Offer healthy food options. Kids need balanced meals that include all of the food groups. Be sure to provide lots of fruits of vegetables, include low-fat dairy for children over age two. Opt for whole grains, and choose lean meats and proteins. Kids may turn up their noses at some of these options; especially at first. Don’t give up! Kids develop their food preferences through exposure and experiences, so it may take several tries before kids will adopt a food.
- Serve appropriate portions. The biggest issue we face in America today is our excess food consumption, overall. Be sure that you are providing your kids with portion sizes that are appropriate for their age. Simply having a moderate approach in the amount of food that they eat can help children maintain a healthy weight.
- Promote physical activity. It is recommended that kids partake in 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity most days of the week. Take time as a family to be active. This not only provides a great example for your children, but also helps the adults get in much-needed activity, as well. So, get outside and getting moving, and more importantly…have fun!
- Limit screen time to 2 hours or less. Screen time can have a negative impact on children’s development in a variety of ways. One critical impact is an increase in obesity risks with higher screen time. Replace screen time with physical activity or other activities that use creativity and imagination.
- Be a role model. Kids learn by example and will often pick up the behavior of the adults in their life. Further, if you have a child already managing a weight problem it can be difficult to make changes when they feel different from other family members. Being active and healthy as a family is a great way to support each other and set the stage for success.