In 2018, in the United States alone, obesity affected 13.7 million children, according to the CDC. With being overweight comes a wide range of health problems which vary from physical health to mental health. So, what are we doing to address this problem?
First and foremost, we are asking that parents get more involved. It is crucial to teach our children from an early age how to read and analyze food labels so they are aware of the different foods that are beneficial to the body and those that may interrupt the body’s proper functioning in the long run. However, we cannot just lecture children, we must show them. It has been scientifically proven that children have ‘sponge-like’ brains indicating that what you show them from an early age they will echo. By making wise food choices their bodies will thank them, and together you and your children will feel better, have more energy, show a decrease in depression and anxiety, improve self-esteem as well as overall physical and mental well-being.
Obesity is a dangerous, destructive disease and there are many factors that bring about obesity in children and adolescents. The first of these is stress (at school, at home, with friends). As parents, we need to create an environment where we can help our children learn the various ways they can relieve that stress rather than turning to food. For example: invite your children to help you walk the dog or walk the mall together. Create an environment at home where children can go and feel safe to talk about their emotions, how they feel, their day, etc. The second major issue is boredom. We want to conquer boredom by getting our kids active and helping them find activities that they enjoy; keeping them out of the house means they are out of the cabinets after school. Example:(walking, ice skating, swimming, bike riding). By encouraging our children to find activities that they enjoy we are allowing them to be creative and helping them put their energy elsewhere. Third comes lack of exercise. It is detrimental to allow your children to sit around and play video games or watch television all day long. Too much sitting is having major impacts on our health. We want to reverse this trend by setting a limit on playing video games, watching television, and using other electronics to only one hour per day. The rest of the time throughout the week should be devoted to fitting in some cardio/aerobic exercise and other activities that will keep your child moving. There are many benefits to exercising. It can help keep weight under control, reduce anxiety and depression, reduce the risk of heart disease, boost academic performance, and create a better quality of life with lower stress levels. Fourth, lack of sleep. Make sure your child is getting the proper amount of sleep each night. Lack of sleep means they are going to want sweets and other sugary foods and/or drinks which contributes to weight gain and possibly diabetes down the road. You’re probably wondering what the correlation between lack of sleep and craving sugary foods is so let’s address it. We have hormones that Keep us in ‘homeostasis’ (a sort of bodily balance), a process that is disrupted by inadequate or inconsistent sleep. This disruption can lead to a change in food intake as our brains adjust for the stressful situation we have caused. This can cause us to crave unhealthy foods and feel more hungry more frequently. How do we teach our kids to make wise food choices? By taking them to the grocery store with us when food shopping for the week and teaching them how to read food labels. We need to make sure our kids are getting the proper amount of nutrients daily. There are some simple tricks to help us with proper nutrition. For Example, for every ounce of meat, poultry and carbs being consumed, the amount of vegetables should be doubled. You can achieve this by including broccoli, peas, spinach, or even a side of salad with olive oil to your meals. Another fun tip is to try transitioning to a Mediterranean diet in your home. Studies show that such a diet can improve health by protecting your body with essential vitamins. These vitamins have broadly positive effects including reduction in the likelihood of developing diabetes, Alzheimer’s, certain cancers, and heart disease.
In Summary, body weight is the result of many different factors (stress, boredom, the environment we are in, poor dietary choices, genes, not getting a sufficient amount of exercise, lack of sleep, medical conditions etc.) but, as parents, role models, and caregivers we want to start establishing some boundaries with our children beginning at a young age (ex: show your kids that carrots are just as tasty as a bag of potato chips. If your kids have trouble following rules, hide the junk food!). These early habits lay the foundation for lifelong healthy food choices and healthy alternatives for our children and reduce future conflict over proper nutrition. In contrast, hovering over your child, calling them names, and continuously telling them to lose weight is not the route we want to take as parents. This leads to body shaming and creates a whole new path in the form of hindered self-esteem and emotional instability causing their psychological well-being to decline rapidly. Instead it is a matter of making healthy substitutions, preparing home-cooked meals instead of fast food, choosing healthy versions of essential foods, and including more fresh foods with each meal.
Ultimately, children are sensitive and while we want to help you conquer obesity in your home and around America, it is necessary for parents to become proactive with their children. Too often children will see their parents not making changes and they feel they don’t need to make any changes either. So, why not start this New Year together. Let’s make small changes every week and set goals for ourselves each month to change something such as encouraging our children to drink more water, taking a walk with them, including more greens into our diet and getting to bed on time. I promise you that your body will thank you in the end and you will be so glad that you took that leap forward to better yourself and the health of your children. As they say: “A healthy body equals a healthy mind.” – Dr. Dregan