As part of my preparation for my integrative-medicine boards, I’ve been doing some research about childhood obesity. The results of this research have been pretty scary!
Childhood obesity is a very common problem. According to the CDC’s website, obesity rates among children age 2-19 has been stable at about 17%. The good news is that obesity in kids age 2-5 has gone DOWN. Black and Hispanic kids have higher obesity rates than white kids, as do kids from lower-socioeconomic-status families.
Why have obesity rates gone down among preschoolers? No one is quite sure, but it’s possible that awareness campaigns targeting parents of preschoolers have been successful.
Why should we care about obesity among kids and teenagers? The scary fact is that obesity raises the rate of a large number of diseases. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, fatty liver, cirrhosis and cancer are among the diseases associated with overweight and obesity.
Our kids’ generation is the first in known history to have a SHORTER life expectancy than their parents. Yikes!
So how do we help our kids? The first thing parents need to do is learn how to create healthy habits for THEMSELVES. Our kids learn their habits by watching their parents. You can’t teach your kids skills that you yourself don’t know. And TELLING your kids they should turn the TV off, go exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, manage stress, and tend to their spiritual life is not nearly enough.
You don’t have to run a marathon to show your kids that physical activity is important. Set limits on screen time for everyone in the house. Go outside and play with your kids. Play tag, Frisbee, toss a ball, teach them backyard games you loved as a kid. Anybody remember “Ghost in the Graveyard,” “Red Light Green Light” or “Swinging Statues?”
You can also get the whole family involved in organized sports. Rec league and pick-up sports games are great fun. Basketball, softball and golf are available for the whole family to play. Martial arts classes teach focus and discipline and actually decrease the incidence of violence and bullying in schools.
The important thing is to make changes slowly. The changes are more likely to stick and be accepted by picky eaters if they happen gradually.
Make a list of family favorites like pizza, chicken nuggets and hamburgers. Look online for ways to tweak the recipes to make them healthier, or start making them at home rather than getting takeout. I guarantee they’ll be heatlhier and everyone is likely to eat less.
Make family meals a priority when possible. Obesity rates are lower in families who all sit down to meals together.
When shopping, choose foods from the OUTSIDE of the grocery store. Fresh whole foods are much healthier than foods that come in boxes, bags and cans.
Read labels and avoid artificial colors and sweeteners. If you see “partially hydrogenated” anywhere in the ingredient list, don’t buy it (it has trans fats which are linked to heart disease and cancer risk). Reduce and avoid high-fructose corn syrup, especially soda.
Probably the number-one stress reliever that people ignore is SLEEP. Everyone needs to get enough sleep! Sleep deprivation makes grownups grouchy, makes kids have trouble with learning and behavior, and makes everyone gain weight. Read more here.
Do you consider yourself religious? If not, that’s OK, there are plenty of nonreligious people who have very healthy spiritual lives. It is important to consider and encourage our families’ spiritual growth. Those who consider themselves spiritual or religious tend to be healthier and suffer less with chronic medical illnesses. You can attend church or other religious services, encounter nature as a manifestation of divine, or explore other spiritual practices such as meditation.
There is more information about the biology of stress here on this page.
The bottom line is that our kids’ health is our responsibility. If the trend of shortening life expectancy is going to be reversed, it is up to us. We all need to make the small changes that will pay big dividends in our kids’ lifelong health habits.
QUESTION: What one area do you feel your family needs to improve most? Activity, diet or stress relief?