For the past few decades, the percentage of obese children in the US has been slowly creeping up and today nearly 20% of children between the ages 6-9 are obese. Unfortunately, the childhood obesity epidemic is not only an American phenomenon but it is also a global problem. Just like in adults, obesity is not a benign disorder in children. Obesity in childhood has both immediate and long term impact on social, physical and emotional health. Obese children are at a very high risk for chronic health disorders that have a direct impact on health factors like sleep apnea, asthma, type 2 diabetes, joint problems and also increased risk of heart disease. Further, obese children are more likely to be bullied/teased and more likely to suffer from depression, social isolation, and low self-esteem. The best defense against childhood obesity is to make changes in life at an early stage. Bad habits are most difficult to break after they are already established as adults.
So if you want your child to have healthy habits, here are some tips:
Role Model: We are role models for our children so its important that we practice these good habits as well. For example, if you smoke cigarettes and/or drink alcohol then your child is also more likely to develop these habits. While you do not have to be perfect all the time, at least adopt good eating habits and remain physically active. If you do this regularly your kids will notice your effort. Remember that they do what we do, not necessarily what we say.
Make it a family event: if you plan any activities make it a family affair. When you do things together, everyone will participate and have fun. When you eat together as a family, chances are that everyone will eat the right type of healthy food. To encourage eating healthy foods, get the child involved in planning and cooking the meal. When you go shopping, teach your children how to read labels and what foods to avoid.
Have a positive outlook: In general, if you have a negative outlook or attitude towards life, then your kid will also sense it. So keep a positive attitude and do not discourage your child if he or she does not do something right or makes an error. Celebrate both success and failures with a positive tone. Remember, when you make you make the activity fun, the child is more likely to be compliant and have a positive self-image.
Set realistic goals. Even though you want your child to be healthy, it is important that they be children and have fun. Of course their entire childhood should not be devoted to eating fruit and veggies and working hard. Introduce small changes in the child’s life and over time this will make a big difference. You are not trying to make the child healthy for one day or one month; the goal is to teach good habits that last a lifetime.
Limit screen time: One of the major causes of an unhealthy lifestyle in children is spending way too much time on the PC and/or the smartphone. These habits not only lead to a sedentary lifestyle but also encourage consumption of junk foods. A sedentary lifestyle is known to increase the risk of heart disease and other serious illnesses.
Physically active. One of the best ways to improve the health of your child is to encourage some type of physical activity; it really doesn’t matter which one. Let the child do something he or she likes and that way they will continue doing the activity long term. Almost any outdoor activity not only helps with physical development but it also improves social skills like playing together, learning to lose and still have fun, and getting fresh air.
Limit rewards: Do not reward the child for everything that he or she does. Reward the child for good behavior and a positive lifestyle by helping them set small, manageable goals. A good example is eating 5 servings of fruits and veggies every day, or getting at least 30 minutes of consistent exercise daily.
Encourage veggies and fruits: Most children have a hard time eating enough veggies and fruits so it can be difficult to get them to like them. Gradually introduce them and let the child explore the taste of the fruits/veggies and let them decide which ones they like. There is no rule that we must always eat the same fruits and veggies in the same way. There are plenty of ways to eat (and sneak!) them into your child’s meals by adding them to sandwiches, soups, pasta dishes and of course salads.
Cut down on sugar: One of the worst foods that a child can eat is too much sugar. Extra sugar has been linked to childhood obesity, behavior problems, and many chronic disorders. So cut the sugar down to a minimum by allowing sugary snacks only on occasion.
Add variety to the foods. To get your child interested in healthy eating, serve a variety of foods that include poultry, seafood, eggs, low-fat dairy, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Schedule meal times: It is important to get your child to eat at scheduled meal times and not continuously graze on snacks all day. Only allow snacks at a certain time and limit the amount. In addition, make sure the snack doesn’t contain a lot of added sugar. Fruits and veggies make great snacks and you can pair them with a protein source (i.e. apples or celery and peanut butter, whole grain crackers with cheese, strawberries dipped in yogurt).
Limit fast foods. Kids loves fast foods because they taste good and they are quick, but eating such foods regularly only leads to obesity. So limit the number of times your child can eat fast foods. Make it a treat and make sure you do not stock your home and fridge with a lot of processed foods.
Drink ample water. While there are many cola beverages and hundreds of juices on the market, there is no beverage better than water. This natural beverage quenches thirst, is free of artificial chemicals and has no calories. So encourage your child to drink plenty of water throughout the day, and even more if he or she plays sports.
One of the best ways to ensure that your child remains healthy is to stay on top of their lifestyles. Encouraging healthy eating habits takes time but the rewards last a lifetime. And the biggest advantage is that the child will need to have fewer visits to the doctor which means less time away from school, and the healthy habits will become second nature for them.
Contributor: Kim Farmer of Mile High Fitness & Wellness. Mile High Fitness & Wellness offers in-home personal training and corporate wellness solutions. Visit www.milehighfitness.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org