It’s no secret that childhood obesity in recent years has become an ever increasing, and extremely worrying problem.
If you’re a parent, what can you do?
Healthy eating and exercise habits are usually established in childhood, therefore a healthy home environment can promote good habits, which continue into adulthood.
There’s no doubt, finding time is a major challenge for parents, but the health of your whole family is at stake, and it’s something you may not be able to redeem at a later date.
Practical steps towards healthy eating for kids
#1 Don’t label foods as “healthy!”
Kids (and adults) have a tendency to automatically think “yuk” when asked to try “healthy” foods.
This is because we have a pre-conceived idea of what the contents are, and therefore what it will taste like.
By removing the word “healthy” you will be removing some of the barriers towards trying new foods.
#2 Repeatedly serve good foods
Studies show that the best way to get kids to eat vegetables, for example, is to keep serving them.
Try small portions, telling your child that they don’t have to finish the lot, but that you expect them to have at least one bite.
Allowing them to stop at one bite, makes trying new foods less scary. After repeating this, on average eight times, most children decide to eat what you’ve presented to them.
But, remember never force your child to eat a particular food.
#3 Be creative with food and snacks
- Offer sliced raw vegetables served with mashed avocado, yoghurt, and lemon juice.
- Pack fruit as a snack for school lunches.
- For older children top cereal with mixed nuts and seeds.
- Barbecue vegetables to give them a completely different taste.
- Offer a fruit based dessert.
#4 Make healthy snacks accessible
If there is a constant supply of healthy foods and snacks in your kitchen, the tendency to eat junk food will be reduced.
Try to prepare snacks ahead of time, especially if you’re not there when children get home from school, and encourage them to eat what you’ve prepared for them.
#5 Ask kids for their help
By getting your children involved in shopping, choosing recipes, and cooking it will encourage them to take a more active interest in good food.
You can also use these times as opportunities to educate your children on healthy eating, turning mundane household chores into a quality family experience.
Practical steps towards exercise for kids
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average child watches around 3 hours of television each day, and it is estimated that they spend 5 1/2 hours on all media combined.
With 3-5 hours each day spent in sedentary activities, it’s really no wonder the rates of obesity in kids is soaring.
Being active as children is extremely important for long-term health.
Those who are regularly active have stronger muscles and bones, are less likely to become overweight, have better self-esteem, and in general are happier kids.
But, how much exercise is enough?
The 2005 dietary guidelines from the USDA and the HHS, recommended that:
All children 2 years and older should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week.
Examples of suitable activities, include:
- Aerobics classes
- Hula hooping
- Tae Bo
- Shooting hoops
- Play wrestling
- Washing the car
- Push ups
- Sit ups
- Abdominal crunches
- Leg squats
What can parents do?
#1 Be their role model
Embrace a healthier lifestyle yourself, by taking regular activity, and by being positive about achieving good health.
#2 Limit sedentary activities
This is an absolute must!
Think about it – kids get up, have breakfast, go to school, come home, complete homework, eat, watch 2-3 hours of TV, and it’s time for bed – it’s hardly surprising there’s little activity.
Experts recommend that you limit watching TV, playing computer games, and Internet access to only 1-2 hours each day.
#3 Include the whole family
Establish a regular schedule for physical activity that includes the whole family, such as family biking trips to the park, walking to visit friends, exploring the local forest/beach/lake, or dedicated family games nights.
#4 Encourage active movement
Give your kids active toys and equipment, for example:
- Ice skates
- Tennis racket
#5 Positively reinforce
Remember, kids want to receive recognition, and encouragement from their parents.
As your child participates, reinforce that behaviour, whatever their abilities, and also encourage them when they express interest in new activities.
#6 Make activity fun
Physical activity should be enjoyable, so choose games and sports which your kids enjoy and actually want to participate in.
If you don’t know what to choose, ask them what they’d enjoy.
Maybe you could go ice skating, or complete an exercise video together, or how about making housework a competition to see who can finish first?
What are your thoughts on childhood obesity? Do you have a solution you’d like to share? Or, is there something you find particularly difficult in your own family. Share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you.