We are facing an epidemic of childhood obesity. This isn’t news to anyone. But the facts are frightening. In 2010, more than a third of adolescents and children in the country were obese or overweight – and that’s an alarming trend.
If you have an overweight child, you need to know:
• Overweight children are more likely to grow up with heart disease.
• Young people who are overweight are at risk of developing high blood pressure.
• Overweight adolescents and children are at risk of future joint and bone problems.
• Overweight kids may develop pre-diabetes and be at greater risk of diabetes.
• Obesity in children is associated with increased risk of cancer.
• Overweight children are more likely to be obese adults.
• Overweight children may have low self-esteem and are often targets of bullying.
• Childhood obesity can decrease life expectancy by two to five years.
When your child is overweight, you may be tempted to put him or her on a diet. But this is a very dangerous undertaking.
Children don’t belong on formal diets. Restricting calories in growing children to help them lose weight is really not a good idea. The preferred approach to help a child slim down and become healthier is to make changes for the whole family.
Not only will this help your child feel more included but the whole family should be striving to be healthier anyway.
Children are sensitive and we need to be aware of that when dealing with childhood weight loss. You should not tell your child that he or she needs to lose weight. Such a confrontation increases the risk of doing harm to the child’s mental health.
Here are some ways to help your child become healthier without causing any emotional scarring:
If your child is very young and has a lot of growing left to do, try to maintain the child’s weight as he/she grows rather than focusing on his or her need to lose weight. This way, the child will grow into his/her weight and you won’t be depriving his/her body of needed nutrients.
Focus on increasing fruit and veggie intake for the entire family. Aim for at least five servings of vegetables a day. Take the children to the grocery store with you and let them shop the rainbow in the produce aisle. Better yet, bring them to the farmers’ market and introduce them to the local organic veggie grower.
Do what you can to make a connection between your children and the food you use to nourish them. Then, make it easy for your kids to eat that fresh produce. Prepare the fruits and veggies with healthy dips and leave them in the fridge for easy eating.
Eat at the table. Children who eat the majority of their meals at the table with their family are less likely to be overweight. Make the time to all sit down at the dinner table together as often as possible. Make it a rule that nobody sits in front of the TV to eat.
At each meal, put a pitcher of water on the table and have everyone drink a big glass before eating. Stop buying sodas, sports drinks and other sugary juices. It might be difficult to end the habit of drinking those sugary beverages, but it is so important. Wean the kids off them gradually. If your kids drink four sodas per day, cut that back to three per day one week, two per day the next week, and so on and so forth.
Incorporate physical activity of some sort into your daily routine and make it fun for the whole family. Play a game of Frisbee together or go for a walk around the block. Head to the park and have family running races. Put the emphasis on fun, not fitness—doing so will make it a lot more enjoyable.
Implementing these changes in your lifestyle and the lifestyle of your child will benefit everyone, so embrace them – and hug your kids while you’re at it!
Leanne Ely, C.N.C. is a New York Times bestselling author and the creator of the original Menu-Mailer and the 30 Day Paleo Challenge. Find Leanne at http://savingdinner.com.