Weight control is becoming a family affair. Not only are adults struggling to make healthy food choices – children, too, are increasingly engaged in a battle against being overweight and the health problems that come with it.
Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with the prevalence among children ages six to 11 increasing from 6.5 percent to 19.6 percent. Among adolescents, the prevalence of obesity has increased from 5 to 18.1 percent. Globally, there are over 20 million children UNDER AGE 5, who are overweight or obese.
Losing this battle puts kids in serious danger. According to the CDC, obese children are at higher risk than those at a healthy weight for developing heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and bone and joint problems. And the stigma of being fat gives kids low self-esteem and makes them a target for bullying. Being a kid is supposed to fun.
If you have concerns about your child's weight, make an appointment with your child's doctor to determine whether they're obese, overweight, or at risk. And if they are, a registered dietitian will help determine a healthy eating plan and determine what their calorie needs are. But whatever your child's weight, you can take steps today to establish a healthy lifestyle for your family that's easy to stick to.
First, recognize that "Do as I say, not what I do" doesn't work. Young children model their behavior on yours, so set the tone by making healthy choices at all times - at the supermarket, at the table and in the kitchen. Just a few strategies to get you started:
- Schedule it. Everyone's busy these days. Make regular meal times a priority. It's important for everyone to learn their body's hunger cues and having a schedule helps.
- Plate it. It may be easy to serve dinner family-style in large serving bowls. But that also makes it easy to eat mindlessly, taking second (or third) helpings without even thinking about it. Plate everyone's meals in the kitchen and leave the extras there. If you need to walk to the kitchen to have seconds, you may think twice about whether you're really still hungry.
- Eat it - your calories that is - and eliminate sugary drinks. Many overweight Americans meet their daily calorie needs with soft drinks and sugary juices before they even take their first bite of food. Don't let your kids establish this dangerous habit. Purge soda from the house and forbid buying it at school. Reduce your juice purchases; most varieties are loaded with sugar. Instead, give your children plenty of milk, and encourage them to drink water and eat whole fruits. Buy kids inexpensive water bottles printed with their names, and encourage them to carry and use theirs everywhere. If your children crave something sweet to sip, unsweetened fruit juice diluted in water is best. Eat your calories - except for milk.
- Make healthy snack choices easy. To counteract the attraction of prepackaged convenience foods, make it easy to reach for fresh fruits and vegetables. Place bowls of fresh, already-washed fruit on the counter or in a specially designated drawer in the refrigerator for easy "grab and go" access. Spend 15 minutes on a weekend night chopping bell pepper, celery and carrot sticks and bagging them into to-go portions that will last all week.
- Satisfy the sweet tooth with fruit. Freeze grapes and cherries for a fun alternative to popsicles. And for a nutrition boost, serve smoothies. Toss a handful of berries and ice cubes with plain Greek yogurt in the blender, and you've got a treat that satisfies ice cream cravings and delivers lean protein and good carbs along with a nice bang of bone-building calcium.
- Put the "family" back in dinner. Assemble at the kitchen or dining room table to share food, news and stories; it's not only an opportunity for the family to connect, but your good eating habits will be front and center. Never eat in front of the television or computer, when you and your kids are less likely to pay attention to hunger cues and food quality.
- Move televisions and computer games out of bedrooms. Create a limited amount of time to watch TV and play games each day, and stick to it. Make physical activity a regular part of your family time together. Go for a walk or bike ride after dinner, plan your weekends and your vacations around fun activities that revolve around exercise, whether it's swimming, hiking, dancing, rollerskating, biking or skiing. Experiment with different activities until you find something your family loves and looks forward to doing together.
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