There was a time when only adults had to worry about heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. That’s no longer the case. Obesity is a growing problem in the United States, and it’s not just an issue for adults. Childhood obesity is surprisingly common. 1 out of 3 children in the United States are overweight or obese. 1 in 5 children are obese.
Childhood obesity rates have doubled in the last three decades. Children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults. Obesity poses an obvious threat to a child’s physical health, but it can also have negative psychological effects as well. Children who are obese and overweight are more likely to experience low self-esteem, depression, and body image issues than children at a healthy weight.
What is obesity?
While overweight includes excess body weight from bones, muscle, water, fat, or any combination of these things, the term “obese” relates specifically to excess body fat.
A child who measures equal to or greater than the 95th percentile on the Body Mass Index is considered obese. While BMI does not measure body fat directly, it often correlates to more direct measurements of body fat.
Children who are obese are at a higher risk of many health problems:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Bone and joint problems
- Respiratory problems
- Sleep apnea
- Psychological problems
- Certain types of cancer
Childhood obesity is preventable
Childhood obesity is a real problem, but luckily you can do something about it. Here are some ways that you can help your child maintain a healthy weight.
Plan a healthy diet
Most school age children need between 1,600 and 2,200 calories in a day. However, these calories shouldn’t come from pizza rolls and soda pop. Lean protein such as chicken or fish along with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy is a good place to start.
Avoid junk foods that are high in fat or sugar, and limit the amount of highly processed foods your child eats. It’s hard to avoid these foods, but they not only come with lots of calories and little nutrition, they also set kids up for an unhealthy relationship with food. Natural fruits and veggies taste delicious, but they’ll never be as sweet, salty, and super-flavored as flavored chips and candy. Kids who eat lots of “fun” foods may lose their taste for real food.
Also, remember that water is the way to go. Sodas are obviously unhealthy, but seemingly healthier options such as juice and sports drinks can be bad in large quantities. Water is the healthiest – and most affordable – drink option.
Emphasize healthy eating habits
A drastic overhaul isn’t the best approach. Big life changes can often fail. Make gradual changes that can become good habits.
- Keep fresh fruit and vegetables ready and prepared for snacking, and rid your house of junk foods.
- Practice portion control. Always place food on dishes rather than eating directly from packages or containers.
- Measure out foods so that they are the correct serving size. For example, a serving of cereal isn’t measured in bowls, as bowls vary greatly in size. A measuring cup can ensure that you’re getting the right number of servings.
- Eat food at the table. This can prevent excessive snacking and grazing throughout the day.
- Stop eating when full. The “clean plate club” can have negative consequences.
Get up and stay active.
As with food, drastic change is not ideal for teaching your children to be physically active. Forcing a child to run a mile every day isn’t going to teach good healthy habits. Children need at least one hour of physical activity each day, so help them enjoy their exercise.
- Make exercise fun. Play outdoor games, have your child join a team, and encourage them to play outside with friends or family members.
- The whole family needs exercise, so be active together! Go for family walks or bike rides. Go to the park, or play sports together.
- Use our free printable family activity planner stickers to make planning activity fun.
- Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen.
- The more active your family is, the easier it is for kids to stay active. Provide a good example.
Make it a lifestyle.
It’s important for the whole family to make healthy decisions together. You can’t expect your child to eat a plate of steamed vegetables while you enjoy a pepperoni pizza. Lead by example.
Make healthy choices a part of the daily routine for your entire family. Wellness is a way of life, and it’s important that the whole family stay fit and healthy.
Visit the doctor.
If you’re worried about how to approach the issue of your child’s weight, or if you feel like you’ve tried healthy diet and exercise and aren’t seeing results, talk to your doctor or your child’s pediatrician. They can help you get on the right track.