1 in 3 children are overweight. 1 in 6 children are obese. This puts millions of children at risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and other chronic illnesses. Moreover, children who struggle with their weight often have lower self-esteem and can suffer from depression. They can be targets of bullying and are socially isolated. This isn’t just a family problem. Childhood obesity is a national epidemic.
By making changes in eating and activity habits, We can! make significant steps to overcoming childhood obesity and raise healthier, happier children.
Here are 9 tips to make health a family matter.
- Talk about it! Our children are flooded with erroneous messages about body image, weight, and what is and isn’t healthy. The fad diets and misinformation are overwhelming. Home is the foundation not only for good eating and exercise habits but also good information. Always focus the conversation on health, not weight. Don’t criticize or compare. Keep an open conversation about what is healthy and how, as a family, you’re determined to become healthier.
- Get scientific: Back your nutrition with science. Kids love science. Talk about what helps their nails and hair grow. Talk about gut health and bone health. For younger children, watch PBS kids. Use the Go, Slow and Whoa chart to keep kids informed. Information is an important step to making good eating choices.
- Watch out for portion distortion: Portion sizes have doubled, even tripled, in the past twenty years. Beware! We’re in a supersize-it age of consumerism, so kids are always seeing “bigger is better.” These messages are part of our everyday lives. When going out to restaurants, split meals. At home, serve meals on smaller-sized plates. And always teach children to listen to their bodies – an empty plate doesn’t mean good nutrition.
- Become a master label decipherer: Extra calories loom everywhere. Learn how to read nutrition labels. For instance, labels show calories per serving. So if five crackers are one serving, and you eat ten, you’ve got to double the information on the label.
- Shop smart:
- Involve kids in making grocery lists and snack choices. Get their input in the family menu. Have them choose the vegetable or fruit of the day. This gives them a sense of control, authority, and will help them become better eaters.
- Check the cupboards and create your grocery list. Stick to it. This avoids buying things you already have, cutting down on waste and saving money.
- Shop the perimeter. Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses. Avoid getting sucked into the middle section and only go for what you have put on the list.
- Don’t shop hungry. This will save money, time, and calories. Hungry shoppers make impulse decisions which usually aren’t the healthiest.
- Sleep well: There are studies that link a good night’s sleep with healthy weight. Erratic sleep or inconsistent sleep can mess up hormones and add pounds. Having good sleeping habits and routines will keep kids healthier.
- Unplug: Make activity a family affair! Get in the movement mindset and get fit. Play tag. Ride bikes after dinner. Jump rope. Walk anywhere you can – the grocery store, the post office. Have kids see walking as a first-choice of transportation. Unplug the TV, computer and put the iPhones away. Research first linked TV watching time to obesity 25 years ago. Get TVs, computers, and smart phones out of kids’ rooms. This has proven to cut into critical sleep time (see #6), and it will keep technology time to a minimum (maximum 2 hours/day recommended). Download this Screen Time Versus Lean Time infographic.
- Rethink your drink: So much sugar, so many calories, in a tiny little juice box. A 12-ounce glass of apple juice has almost 200 calories, whereas water, with a slice of lemon – zero. Make water the go-to choice for hydration for kids. You can make it more appealing with lemon and orange slices, mint leaves, freeze the water bottle at night for an icy drink at school. But, at the end of the day, water is the way to go.
- Small changes matter. Some say, “It’s too late.” It’s never too late to choose health and make necessary adjustments in our lifestyles. This list may be overwhelming, but start with one small change, then add another.
Good nutrition and exercise are everything. Our children’s health, both physical and mental, academic success, and futures free of expensive medications depend on it.
Adopting healthy habits and making healthy food and activity choices as a family is an important first step toward fighting childhood obesity.