September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.
Over the past four decades obesity rates in the United States have soared. And it’s not just adults.
We have witnessed childhood obesity grow to epidemic proportions. More than 23 million children and teenagers in the United States ages 2 to 19 are obese or overweight—that’s roughly one child in every three.
These youngsters are at early risk for developing serious health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, cancer, asthma and even stroke – conditions usually associated with adulthood. In addition, overweight children often suffer from depression, low self-esteem and are frequently the victims of bullying. These psychosocial consequences can hinder kids academically and socially.
But childhood obesity is something we can fight.
The effort begins at home. Parents have enormous influence over their children’s lifestyles by the example they set and the decisions they make. By modeling healthy eating and physically active lifestyles, we can help children develop a lifetime of good habits.
Here’s what you can do:
The American Heart Association and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommend that teens (middle and high school students) get 225 minutes (almost four hours) of physical education every week.
Although physical education is offered in schools, it may not be enough. So parents should consider supplementing physical activities at home.
Aim for 60 minutes of sweat-generating exercise a day. Encourage your children to work out with you at the gym or on your Total Gym, go for family walks or jogs, sign-them up for after school activities like swimming, baseball, dance, nartial arts, etc…
You can even incorporate fitness into your child’s weekly chores – raking leaves burns almost 175 calories, sweeping floors – 156, vacuuming – 170, washing dishes-88, carrying groceries or laundry upstairs can burn up to 442, even making the bed burns up to 68 calories.
The key is to get them moving.
Turn the TV off!
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that kids and teens spend about six hours a day in front of a screen, whether it’s watching TV, playing video games or using the computer for non-homework activities.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting the amount of time kids and teens spend in front of a screen to two hours or less a day (not counting the time they spend doing homework).
Encourage kids to play. Traditional children’s games and activities like hide-and-go-seek, riding bikes, rollerblading, running through a sprinkler and playing tag with friends are not only FUN but burn calories.
Every serving of soda increases a kid’s risk of becoming obese by about 60 percent. Sweetened drinks and fruit-flavored drinks offer nothing except sugar. And even 100% fruit juice, despite the valuable vitamins and nutrients provided, is loaded with calories.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids ages 7 and older drink no more than 12 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice a day (one serving of fruit is equal to four ounces of 100 percent fruit juice).
Instead, keep water and milk on hand to quench kid’s thirst.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found a correlation between childhood obesity and the number of hours a child sleeps each night– the fewer hours of sleep each night increases the risk of being overweight or obese.
It’s suggested that kids 10 years old or older and teens need nine or more hours of sleep every day, but more than 90 percent of teens don’t get that much. In fact, 10 percent of teens sleep less than six hours a day. For every additional hour of sleep a child gets, the risk of obesity decreases by 9 percent.
And in addition to the extra hours of quiet you’ll reap from putting the kids down to sleep, your body actually burns calories while sleeping. On average, you could loose about 350 calories during eight solid hours of sleep.
Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day
Skipping breakfast may actually make you gain weight. Kids who don’t eat in the morning are not only more tired, irritable and hungry during the day, and they tend to reach for high-calorie foods to compensate.
So make sure to make time for breakfast – whether it’s a sit-down or a grab-and-go meal, a cup of yogurt and trail mix or peanut butter on whole grain toast goes a long way.
Eating dinner together increases the chances of eating healthy. Sitting down for a home-cooked meal each night typically means less fried foods (obviously no fast foods) and more veggies.
A study found that when families ate dinner together more than five times a week, there was a 23 to 25 percent reduction in the number of kids with weight problems.
Snacking is actually a good thing – it just comes down to what kids are snacking on.
Snacks should be no more than 100 calories and preferably low in fat, sugar and sodium.
Although a bag of potato chips, pretzels or candy aren’t out of the question, it takes a larger quantity to satisfy the craving in between meals. So kids can eat these sugary or salty treats, but just not as much.
For example, kids can snack on two Oreo cookies or a whole cup of blueberries; twenty potato chips, or a cup of carrots and hummus.
Combining food groups also contributes to making a healthier snack. Protein and carbohydrates pair well (think cheese and crackers or fruit and yogurt). Combining food groups will fill kids up just enough and provide an extra burst of energy until the next meal.
Knowledge is Power
It’s simple – teach your kids how to take care of their bodies.
Bring your kids food shopping with you (Bonus: an hour of shopping can burn anywhere from 100 to 240 calories) or let them help out in the kitchen when you’re preparing dinner – this gives you a chance to explain what nutrients the body needs. Teach them about the food pyramid – it may not be what you learned as a kid, so educate yourself as well by visiting www.MyPyramid.gov.
Show your kids how to read a food label. For example, the food label on a 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola reads100 calories. What kids might miss, though, is that it’s actually 100 calories per serving, and there are 2.5 servings in that bottle. Drink the whole thing, and you’ve consumed 250 calories—that’s almost the same amount of calories in one 7-layer burrito from Taco Bell.
Raising a healthier generation of kids means becoming aware of and involved in what’s going on in our community at large. There are a number of child obesity healthcare initiative’s already in place that you can take part of including First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program, Food Corps, The Foundation for Improving Patient Outcomes “Childhood Obesity Initiative” and even local programs created by caring teachers who want to help their students.
And during Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, look for local businesses who are supporting the cause. Jamba Juice is running a pledge promotion now through September 27th to help fight childhood obesity. Go to www.myhealthpledge.com and make a weekly pledge to do something healthy. Your pledge will donate $1 toward athletic and fitness equipment for a local school in need.