Preventing Childhood Obesity: Tips for Parents

Preventing Childhood ObesityDuring the past four decades, obesity rates have soared among all age groups, increasing more than fourfold among children ages six to 11. More than 23 million children and teenagers (31.8 percent) ages two to 19 are obese or overweight, a statistic that health and medical experts consider an epidemic.

Obese young people have an 80-percent chance of becoming obese adults and are more likely than children of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults. As a result, they are more at risk for associated adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, stroke, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis.

For most children, overweight is the result of unhealthy eating patterns (too many calories) and too little physical activity. Since these habits are established in early childhood, efforts to prevent obesity should begin early.

Promote a Healthy Lifestyle
Parents and caregivers can help prevent childhood obesity by providing healthy meals and snacks, daily physical activity, and nutrition education. Healthy meals and snacks provide nutrition for growing bodies while modeling healthy eating behavior and attitudes. Increased physical activity reduces health risks and helps weight management. Nutrition education helps young children develop an awareness of good nutrition and healthy eating habits for a lifetime.

Children can be encouraged to adopt healthy eating behaviors and be physically active when parents:
• Focus on good health, not a certain weight goal. Teach and model healthy and positive attitudes toward food and physical activity without emphasizing body weight.
• Focus on the family. Do not set overweight children apart. Involve the whole family and work to gradually change the family’s physical activity and eating habits.
• Establish daily meal and snack times, and eating together as frequently as possible. Make a wide variety of healthful foods available based on the Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children. Determine what food is offered and when, and let the child decide whether and how much to eat.
• Plan sensible portions. Use the Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children as a guide.
• Discourage eating meals or snacks while watching TV. Eating in front of the TV may make it difficult to pay attention to feelings of fullness and may lead to overeating.
• Buy fewer high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. Help children understand that sweets and high-fat treats (such as candy, cookies, or cake) are not everyday foods. Don’t deprive children of occasional treats, however. This can make them more likely to overeat.
• Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” All foods in moderation can be part of a healthy diet.
• Involve children in planning, shopping, and preparing meals. Use these activities to understand children’s food preferences, teach children about nutrition, and encourage them to try a wide variety of foods.
• Make the most of snacks. Continuous snacking may lead to overeating. Plan healthy snacks at specific times. Include two food groups, for example, apple wedges and whole grain crackers. Focus on maximum nutrition – fruits, vegetables, grains, low-sugar cereals, lowfat dairy products, and lean meats and meat alternatives. Avoid excessive amounts of fruit juices, which contains calories, but fewer nutrients than the fruits they come from. A reasonable amount of juice is 4-8 ounces per day.
• Encourage physical activity. Participate in family physical activity time on a regular basis, such as walks, bike rides, hikes, and active games. Support your children’s organized physical activities. Provide a safe, accessible place outside for play.
• Limit the amount of time children watch television, play video games, and work on the computer to 1 to 2 hours per day. The average American child spends about 24 hours each week watching television. Reducing sedentary activities helps increase physical activity.

Sources: http://www.coam-month.org/
“Promote a Healthy Lifestyle” reprinted directly from http://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/nutrition/resources/obparnts.htm

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