The subject of obesity can be a touchy one. Many of us know we need to lose a few pounds. Many of us have tried to lose a few pounds, but somehow they keep coming back. Obesity in children is becoming a rampant problem. At a recent conference on obesity, it was stated by one of the speakers that one out-of-three children born today will develop diabetes. It was also stated that children born today may be the first generation of children in this country to not out-live their parents. Obesity brings along with it many problems: hypertension, atherosclerosis, diabetes, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, fatty liver, low self-esteem, and the list goes on and on. As parents, what can we do about it? Below are some suggestions that will hopefully help you and your family.
1. We have become a soft drink nation. We “drink” too many calories. Approximately one-third of teenage boys drink at least three 12 ounce servings of soft drinks daily. The problem when we drink our calories is that they don’t “fill” us up. We still eat the same amount of food. One can of soda a day that we don’t need will add 10-15 lbs to our weight yearly. What should we do?
- Limit the availability of sugar-sweetened drinks. This includes: soda, juice, juice drinks, Kool-Aid, sports drinks, flavored milk, etc.
- Water should be the main thirst quencher. Don’t sweeten it with juice.
- Provide skim or 1% milk at each meal. Most children are deficient in their calcium intake.
- Juice should be 100% fruit juice, and limited to no more than 6-8 ounces per day. Eating an apple is healthier than a glass of apple juice and has one-third less calories.
2. We have become a fast food nation. Children eat fast food an average of twice a week. Many fast food choices are laden with calories and fat. Portion size is also a problem. This years “large” becomes next years “medium.” What should we do?
- Serve portion sizes appropriate for the age of the child. We need to do our homework in this area.
- Avoid super-size meals and drinks. Avoid all-you-can eat buffets.
- Share a meal or split it and take the other half home for another day.
- Help children to eat when hungry and to stop when full.
3. We have become a lazy nation. Only 50% of young people in this country ages 12-21 years regularly participate in rigorous physical activity. An astonishing 25% report no physical activity at all. What should we do?
- Children need 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Advocate for physical education and recess times at school.
- Establish physical activity as part of your family routine for all members of your home.
- Plan special weekend activities.
- Use public facilities for activities.
- Support participation in non-competitive and competitive activities.
- Support physical activity programs for children with special needs.
4. We have become a TV/video game nation. The average child or adolescent watches three hours of TV daily, not including time watching movies or playing video games. About ten commercials per hour advertise food to your children, as they sit there eating and watching TV. What should we do?
- Avoid having a TV set in your children’s bedrooms.
- Limit TV/video games to no more than 1-2 hours per day.
- Monitor what they watch.
- Teach them to critique TV advertising.
- Encourage active play as an alternative to TV/video games.
Finally, we must start young. In one study, only 7% of normal weight children became obese as adults. If they were overweight as children, 77% became obese as adults. Being fat as a child is not a sign of good health. It is a sign of a potentially serious problem. In summary, we must be good role models. We must provide healthy choices. And finally, remember 5,3,2,1,0:
5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily
3 meals a day and more meals prepared at home (includes a healthy breakfast).
2 hours or less of screen time. No more than 2 times dining out per week.
1 hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. One portion size.
0 servings of sugar sweetened drinks.
May you all have a healthy and happy new year!