According to a recent study, the number of American children considered to be obese has more than tripled since the 1970s. Defined as an excess of body fat, obesity is measured using the Body Mass Index, or BMI screening tool. There are a variety of factors that contribute to childhood obesity; while some are inherent, such as genetics, the environment we create for our children has a lot to do with their overall health and wellness. From the abundance of processed, high-fat and sugar laden foods and exaggerated portion sizes to a fast-paced lifestyle, the today’s child has a lot of obstacles on the path to ensuring a healthy lifestyle. Here are some ways parents can ensure a healthy home environment when it comes to preventing childhood obesity.
Apples Don’t Fall Far
Before we begin to frame the habits of our children, we must take a good look at our own routines. Parents who are overweight or obese, or who maintain poor diet and exercise habits, often promote or allow these same behaviors in their children, even if they are trying not to. Breaking this cycle starts with a conscientious effort to establish healthy habits at home for everyone – not just the kids. Focus on good health, rather than body weight, which can lead to negative and sometimes destructive body image issues. Start by establishing daily meal and snack times, and conduct meal prep so that healthy foods are always on hand. Even though life can get pretty hectic, when we don’t plan ahead, it’s easier to resort to fast food or unhealthy options out of convenience.
Re-evaluate your family’s relationship with food
Have you ever rewarded your child with food? It’s a common occurrence; the child gets a good grade and instead of a gold star, they’re praised with a cookie or ice cream sundae. While it may seem like harmless, using food as a reward, or making certain foods off limits, can create a negative mental framework that can lead to unhealthy associations with food. Labeling certain food items (such as sweets, fast foods and fried foods) as “bad” will most certainly make them more desired. As the old “push the red button” metaphor goes, when a child is told not to do something, they tend to want to do it more.
Pediatricians recommend that children between the ages of six and seventeen must be active for sixty minutes a day, for at least five days per week to sustain good health. If you’re finding it difficult to wean your children off of electronic devices and smartphones, encourage sports, dance, or fitness programs to keep them entertained. If their electronic devices are glued to their hands, seek out apps that keep track of steps, promote healthy lifestyles or hobbies that get kids moving, such as Geocaching or scavenger hunts. Take little ones to parks or playgrounds where they can interact with other children, and if possible, provide them with the equipment needed to participate.
These are just a few of the many ways you can make the move toward healthier habits for your family. Talk to your pediatrician who will have tips and tricks for making the transition easier. Children’s Health Care is a Pediatric provider offering comprehensive care from birth through adolescence. From routine immunizations to personalized pediatric nutritional advice – their experienced staff does it all. For more information, call their Newburyport office at 978-465-7121 (Lower Level) or 978-388-9880 (Upper Level), or in Haverhill at 978-373-6557.