Childhood Obesity: Little Things That Make a Big Difference

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It’s no secret that we’re not the healthiest nation in the world. As adults we get so busy with work, family, and friends we lose sight of how important our own physical health can be. We know what we need to do; we just don’t want to take the time to do it. What’s startling is the effect this is starting to take on our youth. You are a role model to someone somewhere, whether you want to be or not. Your kids will look up to you and take after the example you have set. So when you fall short with your own fitness regimen you’re not only affecting yourself, you’re affecting those closest to you. Walk through the halls of any grade school and you will soon realize that things are simply not what they used to be. Type 2 diabetes is more prevalent than ever, access to junk food couldn’t be easier, PE requirements are not as demanding, I could go on and on! Today, approximately 18% of adolescents are considered obese (BMI >30). This is almost 1 in 5! And that figure does not even include all of the “overweight/unhealthy” individuals. Obviously something needs to change. The purpose of this blog is to shed some light on how all of the “little things” can add up and make a significant change in your kid’s life.

The very first thing we need to do is limit the sedentary activities outside of school. Technology has become so advanced that 10 year olds can keep themselves entertained for hours without ever leaving the couch. This never used to be the case! Yes, I am only in my twenties so many of you reading this are going to say I have no room to talk. I had computers, the internet (dial up through high school), video games, but nothing like the youth of today. I recently went home for a family reunion. I watched one of my youngest cousins play angry birds on her iPad while watching TV and listening to her iPod. To make it worse she would text her friend every time she beat a level……she was 9!! I didn’t understand; we had plenty of outdoor activities set up. I looked outside and no one was playing volleyball, no one was shooting hoops, no one was tossing the Frisbee around, no one was playing touch football. I walked through the house only to find everyone else on their cell phone, laptop, iPod, iPad, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry (whatever you call those things!), or just watching TV. It made me sick! This is not the example we need to set for our kids. You are the boss. Set time limits on their access to video games, the internet, T.V, etc. Don’t cut it out completely otherwise you’ll have a rebel on your hands but do your best to monitor how much time they are spending in front of a TV screen. Try to encourage them to get outside and stay active!

Many parents address their child’s lack of interest in physical activity by forcing them into some sort of competitive sport. Many times the kid ends up loving it, and yes, it keeps them in great shape. But not everyone is cut out to be a competitive athlete. Not all kids love sports. I get it, and that’s fine. They may have other talents that can take them further than sports ever could. Whether that is band, drama, chess club, painting, etc. This doesn’t mean they have to be out of shape or overweight.

Kent State University recently produced a study showing that overweight youth spend more time alone than non-overweight youth….makes sense, but instead of looking at the effect that “Team Sports” have on the fitness of these youth, the study was designed to simply look at the presence of peers and their effect on the children’s health status. The results were significant. The presence of peers seems to promote greater physical activity in all children and adolescents. Being in the presence of friends helps increase the youth’s motivation to engage in physical activity. Why? Because it’s more fun! “Play dates” don’t have to stop when your kids are still in diapers. Encourage them to invite friends over, go to a friend’s house, maybe even host a sleep over every now and then. Surrounding kids with their friends will naturally raise their daily caloric energy expenditure and over the years this will add up! Simply put, the more time a child spends alone, the more sedentary they become.

Another thing we need to address is the nutrition we are providing for our kids. This may be hard for some to hear but it’s time to take responsibility. Your 8 year old did not walk to the store and buy that bag of Oreos or those potato chips… you did. Until they are teenagers you pretty much have complete control over what they are consuming. You buy the groceries, you give them lunch money, and you bake the cakes and cook the dinners. You may not be a nutritionist, but you still know what’s healthy and what’s not. If you see there is a problem with your child’s weight, start by locking up the kitchen. I guarantee if the food is not there they won’t have it…and they probably won’t even miss it! Cook smaller portions for dinner or limit the amount you bring to the table. When it’s gone it’s gone, no one really needs 3rds! If school lunches are not a healthy choice pack their lunch! It takes 5 minutes in the morning, there should be no excuse. Again, we all know what needs to be done we’re just too lazy to do it.

You will be surprised at how these little things add up over time. Limiting the sedentary activities at home, encouraging peer interaction, and being more health conscious in the kitchen is the least we can do to address this problem. Childhood obesity starts with us. If your kids see you living a healthy lifestyle they are much more likely to follow suit. If you help guide them towards a healthier lifestyle you’ll send them on a path toward success. It’s never too late to make these changes. Don’t wait, start today!

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