Childhood obesity is a serious problem. Obesity in children can result in emotional problems such as low self esteem, depression and poor body image. Physical conditions can also occur. Overweight children are likely to become overweight adults. Adult weight control issues can be linked to increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Many children can benefit from improving their eating and physical activity habits, regardless of their weight. One in five children in this country is now believed to be overweight. Parents, relatives, teachers, and health professionals can help children to make healthy lifestyle choices. Children, themselves, can focus on making nutritious food choices and getting some type of physical activity each and every day.
Obesity in children is largely preventable, with the incorporation of sensible eating habits and with the inclusion of daily physical activity.Why is there concern about children being overweight?
What is contributing to excess weight in children?
- Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.
- Once a child is overweight, that extra weight tends to be harder to take off.
- The number of obese children in the US is on the rise.
- Being overweight increases the risk for many diseases.
- Lack of physical activity. Many see excess television watching and spending too much time playing video and computer games, as contributing factors.
- Some children consume high calorie foods while watching television.
- Lack of safe areas in some neighborhoods for children to play outside.
- Eating more fast food.
- Drinking more sweetened soft drinks.
- Larger portion sizes.
- Advertising by the food industry to children may also contribute to children's poor eating habits.
Buying groceries is an important part of eating a healthy diet. Grocery stores offer a wide variety of items, but not all of them are nutritious and healthy choices. It is up to you and your family to make healthy choices. Here are some suggestions:
- Make grocery shopping a learning experience.
- Plan ahead. Use coupons for items you have worked into your meal plan to save money when you can.
- Encourage children to participate in planning and in cooking meals.
- Make a grocery list and stick to it.
- Purchase and try new foods on a regular basis.
- Be sure to include plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Choose lower fat meats and cheeses.
- Look for and purchase whole grain breads and cereals.
- Select lower fat dairy products.
- Read nutrition labels to help you find healthy foods for you and your family.
- Try to eat at home-- more often-- than eating away from home.
- Avoid super-sizing options.
- Some restaurants are now offering more nutritious choices like fruit cups in place of french fries and low fat milk in place of soda.
- Be careful to not consume excess calories in sweetened soft drinks, specialty coffee drinks, juices and sports drinks, on a regular basis.
- Include healthy nutrient rich beverages like low fat milk and 100% fruit juice.
- Make exercise a part of your child's lifestyle. Include some form of physical activity into your child's day.
- Exercise helps to maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise can reduce stress.
- Exercise helps to lower the risk of developing serious health problems. It helps to promote healthy bones, muscles and joints.
- Exercise increases physical stamina and can help to lower blood pressure.
- Regular exercise can improve coordination.
- Buy toys and equipment that promote physical activity and fitness.
- Make washing the car a fun family activity.
- Take a family walk after dinner.
- Encourage children to ride bikes and play outside, in safe areas, rather than watching TV.
- · Exercise helps to achieve a restful and good night's sleep.
- Physical activity builds self esteem.
- Parents should be active themselves to encourage their children to be active. Parents are strong role models.
What Can Families, Schools and Communities Do?
Use the food pyramid to determine the number of servings and portion sizes for each food group.
Keep healthy foods and snacks available in your home.
- Parents need to really look at what foods their children are consuming over time.
- Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages like regular soda and sweetened fruit juices.
- Limit high fat and greasy food choices. (Note: Children under the age of two should not have dietary fat limited.)
- Don't overly restrict sweets and desserts. Practice moderation, not deprivation.
- Eat meals together as a family.
- Prepare and eat more meals at home.
- Limit fast food choices.
- Encourage kids to drink several glasses of water every day.
Turn off the TV during mealtimes. Discourage eating meals and snacks in front of the TV
- Discourage children from snacking while doing homework.
- Try to teach children to eat slowly and to recognize cues for feeling full or for feeling hungry.
- Recognize and address when children are eating for reasons other than hunger. Excess eating can occur when children are lonely, angry, tired, or bored.
- Make mealtime a pleasurable experience.
- It is not recommended that children be put on calorie restricted diets. Children need certain amounts of calories and nutrients for proper growth and development.
- Families have a big impact over the nutritional habits of children.
- Parents who prepare and consume healthy foods and who engage in regular exercise will probably have children who do the same. Parents need to role model good eating and exercise habits.
- Don't over emphasize weight issues. Over concern can lead to dangerous eating disorders.
- Schedule regular health check ups with your health care provider.
- Decrease access to foods with little nutritional value.
- Encourage schools to stock cafeterias and vending machines with healthy choices
- Encourage the 5 a day program, which encourages children to eat five servings of fruits and vegetable a day.
- Do not use candy or sweets as a reward.
- Encourage children to join a school or community sports program, if they are able.
- Encourage children to participate in some form of physical activity every day.
- Create an environment that makes healthy eating and active lifestyle the norm rather than the exception.
- Provide accessible and safe sidewalks, play grounds and bike paths.
- We have the power to prevent and cure childhood obesity by our choices and by our actions in our homes and by our actions in our communities.
Please contact the Broward County Extension Education Division to find out more about available resources and programs to assist families in addressing children's health issues.