Childhood Obesity: What Can Parents Do?

CoachMel Exercise, Healthy Eating 13 Comments

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.

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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:

  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics classes
  • Dancing
  • Tag
  • Skipping
  • Hula hooping
  • Skating
  • Football
  • Tae Bo
  • Handstands
  • Shooting hoops
  • Play wrestling
  • Climbing
  • Washing the car
  • Push ups
  • Sit ups
  • Abdominal crunches
  • Pull-ups
  • 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:

  • Kite
  • Frisbee
  • Skateboard
  • Football
  • 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.

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Comments 13

  1. Tom

    I think the best advice is to be a role model. I feel that a parent eating well themselves will have a much greater impact on their kids’ diets, than just teaching them what a healthy lifestyle is. When a parent has a healthy lifestyle, they are going to have the healthy food available in the house. This makes it much easier for a child to eat healthier and will help them develop a better diet later in life.

  2. Family Nutritionist

    Oh, yes, and teach them they don’t NEED to eat all the time. Just because their little tummies growl a little doesn’t mean they have to eat RIGHT NOW. They don’t need a snack every half-hour, and snack time doesn’t have to be a MEAL. When they eat that nice piece of fruit and say they are still STARVING, their tummy is GROWLING, it’s OK — dinner is coming along in just 2 hours. They can make it. They don’t have to be FULL all the TIME. I think it is important to help kids learn this early on. They don’t have to keep eating until they feel STUFFED.

    They aren’t STARVING. They’ve never actually starved. They’ve never gone ONE DAY without eating. They’re so lucky, they’ve never even missed a meal! They’re not wasting away!

    I like to say “It’s important to eat the right amount of food to stay healthy, so it is important to know when you’ve had enough to eat. Sometimes, your belly keeps telling you it is hungry, even though you have given it enough food. Let’s ask it again in 20 minutes.”

    There’s that, and then there’s portion control. Don’t let them eat a cinnamon bun larger than their head.

  3. Rebecca

    Wooo-Weee! Down here in the South, food is currency when it comes to showing love and hospitality. I’ve already started talking to my married son about changing some of our family traditions so that we begin to leave a healthy legacy for his children!

  4. nico

    I hold the food industry largly responsible for childhood obesity. Who knows what they put in our food that makes our kids crave for more and more all the time.

    As a parent you should be aware which foods are extremely sugary and highly addictive and which are not. Then, act accordingly and leave them out of the house!

    But there’s no stopping to it really. If kids can’t get their sugar at home, they’ll get it somewhere else, like at school.

    As a kid I used to eat and drink all kinds of sugary soft drinks, cookies and candy. The thing is, I was always running around, doing stuff like roller blading, swimming and just playing tag, hide and seek or whatever. When I got older I became less active, yet kept eating unhealthy stuff. Obviously, I gained weight.

    It took me some serious time to learn a new, healthy lifestyle. and then another year to actually gear up the activity level by doing some exercise again. I lost my weight and got back on the right track, but many people seriously have a hard time adopting to a healthy food culture.

    ps: Is this childhood obesity awareness week or something? I just happened to blog about the exact same subject. :o)



  5. Bill Gordon

    I have been very lucky. When I was young people worked hard and earned enough to just about feed themselves and their children, and as a child food played a very small part in my life. Apart from having to go to school where we did have P.T. and sports. and playgrounds which were often battlegrounds, which incidentally a black eye was just about the worst injury one would sustain., Our whole life was lived out of the house with children of our own age experimenting with what we could or not do If we were allowed we would run from dawn to dusk, playing. Whatever our childish problems were at the end of the day total exhaustion guaranteed a full nights sleep. I would like to think that maybe in the future children would be able to have as fullfilled childhood as I had

  6. Cat Moore

    Speaking as an overweight adult with overweight parents, my suggestion are:
    1) turn off the tv
    2) surf/read after dark – be outside when it’s light and you aren’t at work/school
    3) turn off the tv
    4) never ever reward behavior with food – food is a necessity, not a luxury and so shouldn’t be linked to behavior, good or bad.
    5) portion control is key – weigh it or measure it, and do not rely on the manufacturer, restaurant or your southern grandma to determine a portion (I have a southern, German grandma who rewarded every thing with food.
    6) did I mention – turn off the tv?
    7) don’t harp on their weight -harping makes the problem worse. You are the parent, fix their environment. You want food and eating to be like sleeping – something we do in correct portions, not a battleground.
    8) oh, and turn off the tv

  7. Melanie

    Hi Tom,

    Yes you are totally right, being a role model is so important, I think we pass on habits to those around us unwittingly, so it’s important to be aware of the impact we’re having!

    Family Nutritionist,

    You made me laugh, and you’re so right! I particularly liked your comment “Let’s ask it again in 20 minutes.” Also, “Don’t let them eat a cinnamon bun larger than their head!” Very very true, thanks!!


    Yes, I think the food industry have a huge part to play.

    Now that you’ve experienced a healthier way of life, do you feel YOUR “healthy” influence could have a greater impact on your kids (if you have kids, or hypothetically speaking if you don’t) than the food industry?

    Hi Rebecca,

    Yes, this is very wise advice, but something many families must struggle with I’m sure!

    Hi Bill,

    Thanks for your comments, they bring back memories of my own childhood.

    It seems that some children’s ideas of what it is to “play” has changed dramatically in recent years. It’s very unfortunate indeed, and it makes me sad when kids think entertainment is watching a movie, this has it’s place, but shouldn’t be the focus!

    Hi Cat,

    Thank you so much for your input! Really great suggestions, and I particularly like your suggestion not to “harp on” about their weight! This is such a key piece of advice, thank you for sharing!

  8. Liz Renter

    “Make Activity Fun”! That is key! I think kids forget that activity can be fun when they are forced to view every activity as dreaded “exercise”. Similar to labeling foods as “healthy”, labeling activity as “exercise” can immediately turn a child off.
    Complacency is far easier than active parenting but as parents it is our responsibility to create healthy adults. Because I am a mother and also work for a swingset company that places a real emphasis on creative play, I think this post really got my attention. At CedarWorks we believe that kids want to be active and if given the right tools and encouragement, they can remember how fun being active really is!
    Anyways, great post- very relevant!!

    Liz R.

  9. Melanie

    Hi Liz,

    Thanks for commenting.

    I checked out Cedar Works, very beautiful products. I can imagine if kids had one of these in their garden they’d love to be outside! 🙂

  10. 4b1L

    agree to Liz. Making a fun activities for our children will give a good effort.

    4b1L’s last blog post..Internet Axis Unlimited

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