Obesity has affected 13.7 million children in 2018 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 change this around?
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 food labels so they are aware of the different foods that are beneficial to the body and those that may interrupt the body’s function 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. Moreover, by following this process, we are wiring the brains of our children so that they are aware and understand which foods aid the body to function properly and which they need to avoid in order to protect and help their ever-changing bodies. 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. One of them being: Stress (at school, at home, with friends). As parents, we need to create an environment where we can help our children learn of all 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. Second, 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, lack of exercise. Never allow your children to sit around and play video games or watch television all day long. We need to get them up and moving. 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 other electronics to only one hour once a week. 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, 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 me address it. We have hormones that balance our body out hence the term “homeostasis” and by not getting the appropriate amount of sleep each night not only does it affect the decisions we make throughout the day but more specifically, the decisions we make regarding the types of food we want to indulge in. It also throws off our hormones responsible for appetite which then go into overdrive making us hungry more frequently. Lastly, diet. 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. For Example, for every ounce of meat, poultry and carbs being consumed, the amount of vegetables should be doubled, and you can do that by including broccoli, peas, spinach, or even a side of salad with olive oil to your meals. By transitioning to a Mediterranean diet in your home, you are protecting your body by supplying it with vitamins that are essential for your organs to run properly while also reducing the risk 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 daily, lack of sleep, medical conditions etc.) but, as parents, role models, and caregivers we want to start establishing some form of boundary with our children beginning at a young age(Ex: show your kids that carrots are just as tasty as a bag of potato chip. If your kids have trouble following rules, hide the junk food). This will reduce the amount of conversations we need to have with our children as they grow older and they will be thankful that they strengthened their will power to fight the urge of eating bad food at an early age so by the time they reach adulthood it will become second nature and they won’t even look at those foods. In contrast, hovering over your child, calling them names, 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 swapping foods and preparing home cooked meals instead of eating out, swapping out whole milk for skim milk with cereal, instead of sandwiches every day for lunch, encourage some greens and when you have a busy week ahead and know you will not be able to cook a healthy meal for yourself and your children, try meal prepping.
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