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Kids Obesity: The Risks And How to Prevent It

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Studies suggest that three times as many children in the United States are overweight or obese now than 30 years ago. Some estimates suggest one in five kids are overweight or obese, but many think that’s a conservative figure. Some figures show it’s closer to a third of all our kids, and scarily, that figure is rising.

What’s causing it?

Modern kids have a greater choice of foods, including high fat and sugary goods. They’re also less active than they were in the past. Kids today watch, on average, an alarming 2 ½ hours of TV a day, as well as spending time using computers or other electronic games. These sedentary pastimes are replacing active ones.

What’s to blame?

Apart from the new modern sedentary way of life, stats have shown that a family’s eating patterns can have a major influence on whether a child maintains a healthy weight.

Genetics can be an issue, but it shouldn’t be an excuse. If there is a family tendency to become overweight, parents need to be even more aware of making healthy food choices for the whole family.

Why does it matter?

Potential health problems for obese children include type 2 diabetes, flat feet, liver problems, breathing problems especially during exertion, sleep apnea, and cardiomyopathy, a problem with the heart muscle. 

All these health issues will only get worse as the child gets older. About 80 percent of obese adolescents will become obese adults.

Obseity can affect mental health.

Obesity can have a major impact on how children feel about themselves and how they interact with others. It might cause low self-esteem which in turn could affect the development of friendships or how well a child does at school. It could also result in them being bullied.

So what can parents do to combat childhood obesity?

  • Be an example. You’re not going to get your kids to eat more vegetables and fruit if you’re getting into a KFC bucket yourself every night. There’s no great secret to healthy eating. Try to ensure you provide plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean meats, and fish and eat these foods yourselves in front of your kids.
    Encourage your child to eat slowly and have set mealtimes. You can use mealtimes as an opportunity to catch up on what’s happened during the day.
  • Don’t diet in front of your kids. “Diets are a predictor of future weight gain and best avoided,” warns Lisa Renn, accredited practicing dietician and author of Diet Proof your Kids. If you are unsure of how to be healthy without dieting then check in with a practicing dietitian.
  • Portion control. “Serve up small quantities and offer more if they want more,” suggests Lisa. “It’s not helpful to make your child eat everything on their plate as this overrides their own feelings of fullness and can lead to overeating in the long term.”
  • Don’t restrict. “The number one mistake parents make is thinking that healthy eating means not eating ‘sometimes’ food at all,” says Lisa. “The current obsession with healthy eating causes a well-meaning parent to create children with poor relationships with food.
    Food restriction sets up unhealthy relationships with food and increases the likelihood of children overeating less healthy foods.” This means teaching kids how often and how much is appropriate and not making a big deal about it being a treat — it’s just food!
  • Food is nourishment. Keep food for physical nourishment, not as a replacement for caring. A hug and an understanding word work better than chocolate and help your child keep a healthy relationship with food.
  • Be consistent. Keep exposing your kids to vegetables. It takes at least eating 10 times for them to develop the taste for a particular food. Keep trying and make sure you eat them yourself!
  • Keep calm. Don’t make mealtimes stressful. Focus on the things your child is doing well and encourage them, instead of getting stressed about what they aren’t eating. 
  • Stay active. Children should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. “Make exercise fun, don’t make it about weight or appearance, and choose activities that get you moving together as a family,” suggests Lisa. This could be going for a walk every evening before dinner, or to the pool on the weekend. 
  • Reduce screen time. It won’t be popular, but limiting your child’s time spent in front of the TV or a computer screen will improve their physical and mental health. Set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride instead of watching TV or surfing the net. Remove all screens, including mobile phones, from their bedroom at night.
  • Get their zzzs. It’s been shown that children who don’t have the recommended amount of sleep are more likely to be overweight. Children up to the age of 6 or 7 need around 11 hours, and 8 to 16-year-olds need 9 or 10 hours.

Helpful Tips for Toddlers

  • Involve little kids in the growing, preparation. and cooking of food.
  • Use ‘reward’ charts to encourage kids to try new vegetables; make sure the rewards aren’t other foods!

Helpful Tips for Teens

  • Have easy-to-grab healthy food options in the house, such as pre-cut veggie sticks and dip, fruit, and small yogurts.
  • Talk to your teenagers about healthy snack or meal ideas they’ve heard from friends or school so you can have them in the house.

This article originally appeared on our sister site, Now to Love.

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