Child obesity is a growing problem in the United States. Over the past 30 years, obesity rates have doubled for children (ages 6-11) and quadrupled for adolescents (ages 12-19). Between 1980 and 2012, the obesity rate in children increased from 7% to 18% and from 5% to 21% in adolescents. As of 2012, over one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
In order to reverse this disturbing trend, it’s important to teach your child the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle at a young age. In this post, you’ll discover the causes of child obesity and steps you can take to make living a healthy lifestyle a reality in your household.
Causes of Child Obesity
There are many factors that can contribute to child obesity, though most of them come back to poor eating habits and a lack of physical activity. However, there are several factors that may stand in the way of living a healthy lifestyle. These include, but are not limited to: environment, economy, leisure time and poor sleep.
Today, many streets and suburbs are designed so that little walking and physical activity is required. Cars are right outside our front doors thanks to driveways, and stores are placed far enough away that we are required to drive to them. According to the National Institutes of Health, supermarkets are often placed farther away from low-income neighborhoods. Not only this, but they provide a lower quality of fresh produce. In addition, you often have to pass many fast-food restaurants to get to the store, so it may just be easier to stop there for lunch instead.
In today’s economy, many families are lowering their grocery budget to save money. Oftentimes, this results in buying convenience foods that are high in fat and contain little nutrition, creating poor eating habits. Also due to the economy, many schools are having to cut P.E. and other athletic programs in order to save money, thus taking away an opportunity for physical activity.
Technology is great, but it has also greatly changed how we spend our free time. For kids, time that used to be spent playing outside is now spent in front of the TV or computer. If using time in this way becomes a habit, it can contribute to a sedentary lifestyle, which will in turn cause long-term health problems.
In a new study from the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, how well a child sleeps was found to have a negative correlation with the amount of fat found in that child. Children who had lower levels of sufficient sleep were found to have higher levels of abdominal fat and other measures that can be indicative of obesity.
Establishing Healthy Eating Habits for Your Child
As parents, there are ways you can help encourage your child to eat and live healthily.
1. Adjust your grocery budget. As mentioned above, a limited grocery budget can make it hard to eat healthfully. Can your family get by with only one car? Do you really need all of those TV channels? If at all possible, make cuts elsewhere in your budget to allow room for healthier grocery options. Also, limit the amount of junk food you buy and opt for healthier snacks instead. A bag of pretzels instead of chips or yogurt instead of ice cream can go a long way.
2. Encourage physical activity. Just as important as eating healthy is staying active. Limit the amount of time your kids spend watching TV or playing on the computer and encourage them to play outside in their free time. You can also encourage them to participate in an after-school sport. If they really need motivation, set aside a time for your family to do something active together – such as going for a walk or a night of bowling.
3. Pack your kids’ lunch. If your children’s school cafeteria doesn’t have healthy options, pack a lunch for your children to eat instead.
4. Make healthy food fun. Kids often don’t like to eat healthy food because it seems boring. Here are some things you can do to make healthy food seem more exciting:
- Use healthy dips such as ranch or hummus to make eating vegetables more enjoyable.
- Come up with creative names for healthy foods to make them sound better.
- Sprinkle on some sugar, which can help add a little bit of sweetness to make bland foods taste better. Just be careful to use the sugar in moderation, though.
5. Set a good example. Perhaps the most important thing parents can do in encouraging their children to eat healthier is be a good example. If children see their parents eating healthy and staying active, they will be more likely to follow.
Remember that regardless of what you or your child eats, consuming it in moderation is key. Help your child control their portions when eating, especially when dealing with unhealthy foods. If you have any questions about child obesity or how to better help your child develop healthy eating habits, talk to your pediatrician.
How do you teach your child healthy eating habits?