It’s no secret. Obesity is running rampant and continues to plague our youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-fifth (or 17%) of all of America’s youth is obese or over weight. Childhood obesity has tripled1 since the 1970’s and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Children are the victims here, and it’s disheartening that our society has become so lax about diet and exercise.
Obesity in children contributes to a multitude of issues such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which puts them at risk for cardiovascular disease. It also puts them at risk for diabetes, stroke, bone and joint problems, sleeping problems, social and psychological problems, poor self-esteem, cancer, and osteoarthritis.2 What’s amazing is that most cases can be prevented or conquered with cheap, easy diet and exercise.
If your child is struggling with obesity, get started by setting an example for your child by being healthy yourself. I know changes can be hard to make, but this is a serious issue in our country that’s not going to go away on it’s own. You are your child’s role model and they look up to you. You are their one and only true advocate. So let’s get to work and become a healthier society as a whole.
Diet and exercise go hand in hand. You must make sure you are feeding your family the nutrients it needs and make sure they are active as well. Eating healthy doesn’t have to cost a lot and you don’t need a gym membership to stay in shape. One of the hardest things to take control of is your diet. If you have a yard you can grow your own fruits and vegetables or you can shop at farmers markets.
Here are some do’s and don’ts related to diet:
- DO NOT allow your kids to drink soda or other sugary drinks. It’s overall just bad, bad, bad. As Cicely Everson, Founder of Tao Holistics tells us, “The average can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar. Sugar not only interferes with the regulation of blood sugar, but it is also addictive and degrades the lining of the intestines. This interruption in blood sugar regulation leads to insulin toxicity, or hyperinsulinemia, where the pancreas releases insulin in excess! Did you know that the hormone insulin holds onto fat cells and causes weight gain?”
- DO NOT make excuses. Saying you don’t have time is not acceptable. Make living a healthy lifestyle a priority.
- DO NOT use food to comfort your children. Food should not be used as a reward or coping mechanism.
- DO NOT keep junk food in the house!
- DO NOT eat out! Make meals at home. Restaurants serve portion sizes that are too large! And fast food is filled with foods that are high in fat and calories.
- DO shop the perimeter or outside walls of the supermarket only. Generally, supermarkets have their produce and meats on the outside track.
- DO teach your children how to read nutrition labels.
- DO explain to your child why eating healthy is important.
- DO incorporate your child in the food buying process and let them pick out their favorites and guide them in making healthy choices.
- DO serve small portions. If they are still hungry, they can eat seconds. A lesson I am thankful for that my father taught me at a young age was, “Eat until you are full and then don’t eat anymore.” He learned from his generation that “eat what’s on your plate” or “eat until it’s all gone” was not healthy. Thanks Dad!
Healthy Choices for School Lunches:
- Whole Wheat sandwich with turkey or chicken breast meat. Make sure this is 100% whole wheat and the first ingredient doesn’t say, “enriched”, it should say “whole”. Those marketers try to trick you so be careful!
- Soups like Minestroni & Vegetable Beef – my mom used to send me to school with a thermos full of soup. Make sure you look for lower sodium soup as well.
- Any fruit or vegetable. If your child doesn’t like one or the other think of sprucing it up with peanut butter*, almond butter*, raisins, or hummus. Think apples or celery with peanut butter, and baby carrots or cucumber slices with hummus.
- Soy Crisps
- Mini Pitas
- Tortilla with left over chicken
- Cheese Sticks
- Unsweetened Apple Sauce
- Trail Mix including unsalted nuts*, raisins, sun flower seeds, coconut chips, dried fruit, and dark chocolate chips.
- Tuna, egg, or chicken salad sandwiches on whole wheat bread
*Make sure you check with the school to see if bringing in peanuts is okay. Safety comes first and some children may have nut allergies.
Exercise is just as important as diet. In our American lives we are more sedentary than ever before. It’s not okay to sit all day at your desk job and then come home to do more of the same in front of your TV. Get up and get active with your kids! Be an example for them. It’s easier than you think and doesn’t take much time at all. As Len Saunders, author of Keeping Kids Fit says, “It does not have to become complicated. Children just need to get up and move. Try to keep it fresh and entertaining. Work with the children instead of fighting with them. For example, we know children are involved in too much sedentary activity, which include a lot of technology. TV time can consume 2-4 hours a day. So, have the kids ‘commercial-cize’ when they watch TV. Whenever a commercial comes on TV, they should exercise the entire commercial break performing pushups, situps, run in place, jumping rope, or jogging in place.” It is recommended that 60 minutes of activity is all that is needed each day. And that doesn’t have to happen all in one shot. Divide up the time throughout the day.
Here are some cheap and easy ideas for exercise:
- Go for a walk or hike
- Go for a bike ride and stop at the playground
- Play a sport – baseball, basketball, football, soccer, etc.
- Go for a swim
- Do household chores – Have Junior take the dog for a walk, help in the garden, etc. Try not to reward with food or sweet treats.
- Get involved in community events. There are tons of walks, runs, triathlons, and biking events that the whole family can do.
- Go Geocaching (a real world treasure hunt) and teach children how to use a compass
- Allow the kids to make their own obstacle course. And then see how fast they can go through it. Use imagination.
- Teach cheerleading moves or karate/self-defense moves
- Have a child that’s into video games? Try Live Action Role Playing (L.A.R.P) – Think dungeons and dragons with foam sword fighting.
Another easy and helpful tip, that Shawn Talbott, a Nutritional Biochemist and Author, tells us is, “get kids to bed on time so they get a good night sleep. Kids (teens and adults) who don’t get enough sleep have changes in hormones that increase appetite (specifically for junk food) and promote abdominal fat accumulation (specific belly fat storage, which many of us call “stress fat”). If parents want to keep their kids healthy, help them avoid weight gain, and reduce their risk for diabetes later in life, they need to get them off soda and into bed on time – while they’re also encouraging an overall healthy lifestyle for the entire family.”
Overall, diet and exercise can be fun and easy to accomplish. Are you doing all that you can to ensure your family is getting the healthy diet and exercise they deserve? Please let me know if we’ve missed any key tips in the comments below. If you have questions leave those in the comments as well. Good luck and congrats on starting your family on a journey of living a healthy lifestyle! You can do it!
- 1Loyola University Health System Child and Adolescent Weight Management Clinic
- 2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Special Thanks To:
- Jackie Culver, Executive Director of the Shannon Miller Foundation and Owner of JOC Fitness – Helps to fight childhood obesity and offers children and their families the knowledge for a healthier lifestyle.
- Sharon Richter, a Registered Dietician and Certified Dietetic Nutritionist
Additional Health Resources