This article is part of Harbor’s Prevention Presents series, found on Harbor.org.
“The prevalence of obesity in children more than tripled from 1971 to 2011” according to the American Heart Association. Childhood obesity is considered a national epidemic and can lead to major health issues later in life.
Obesity is defined as having excess body fat, which can be measured by using a BMI-for-age percentile when testing children. While this method is a good tool, it averages by age; childhood obesity should be diagnosed by your family physician. Aside from medical conditions such as heart problems and diabetes, obesity can also lead to issues with self-esteem and bullying. It even has the attention of First Lady Michelle Obama, who said, “If we don’t solve the problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives.” She started Let’s Move!, a national initiative dedicated to solving the challenge of childhood obesity. The National Football League has introduced NFL Play 60, a campaign to encourage kids to be active for 60 minutes a day in order to help reverse the trend of childhood obesity. Although historically some school lunches have been unhealthy, new laws require better portion control and healthier options for kids to choose from. (If you pack your child’s lunch, here are 3 healthy lunch ideas.)
Here are some positive ways to prevent or fight against childhood obesity in our own homes:
Limit screen time. To say technology hasn’t played a part in this epidemic would be turning a blind eye to what is going on around us. Smartphones, tablets, game systems, and computers have taken hold of our children and we need to take them back. Monitoring technology usage throughout the day and limiting them to equal amounts of physical activity and tech time could be very beneficial to their overall health. It has become too easy when children are misbehaving or bored to place technology in their hand; as adults, we need to set the tone and encourage children to get outside and move. (Learn more about limiting screen time for toddlers and 5 ways to “unplug” your family.)
Plan healthy meals. Meal prepping and planning can be a lifesaver for living a healthy lifestyle. Plan ahead and take time out on Sunday to pack some fruits and veggies or even just healthier snacks such as peanuts or granola bars for the week, in order to deter the snacks found in vending machines. (Here are some healthy snack ideas.)
Promote water as a drink. Instead of pop or energy drinks, encourage kids to replace sugary beverages with water. Lead by example, swapping just one can of soda a day for water can cut 150 calories and up to 50 grams of sugar from your daily diet!
Be active. Get children involved in something active such as sports teams, swim classes, mini marathons, nature hikes, indoor play lands, and even certain video games that involve moving around. For ideas of activities in the Toledo area, visit www.momonthegoinholytoledo.com. Some gyms offer children’s areas that promote working out and are separate from the rest of the gym so they are able to go at their own pace while the adults are working out.
Considering obesity as a child often leads to obesity as an adult, it is important to attack it now rather than later. Setting an example and living a healthier lifestyle will help children to see how important it is to stay active.
Eric Dale is a prevention specialist at Harbor, an affiliate of ProMedica. This article excerpt is part of the Prevention Presents series, a weekly series of columns found on Harbor.org. For the full article, click here. For more information about Harbor’s prevention programs, please call 419-475-4449.