By now most people in the U.S. recognize that there is an epidemic of obesity in our children. Statistically, the percentage of overweight children has more than doubled since the 1960’s. Along with that, we have seen an increase in the number of kids with high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. But what action have parents taken to stem the tide of childhood obesity? What can they do?
Before I answer those questions I want to explain a phenomenon that I have noticed in the majority of overweight children that I see. The phenomenon I see has to do with children’s growth curves. In kids who get overweight, they are not overweight in the first few years of life. Their growth curve changes direction and they become overweight only when they take over control of their own diet. When I ask about their diet I usually get the same answers – they eat pizza, spaghetti, burgers, fries, and few fruits and vegetables. So this is the answer to the question about what parents can do. Parents need to stay in control of children’s diets even into late grade school. Here’s how.
- Don’t pay attention to kids’ likes and dislikes. Children can choose to eat or not to eat. If they don’t eat, they can wait until the next meal, even if it is breakfast. Children won’t starve themselves. We don’t need to push them to eat everything.
- Be a good example. This is an essential rule. Parents should choose the healthy meals. If your kids don’t like it and won’t eat – that’s ok. They need to learn to choose from the healthy choices that you present. They need to earn the right to have a choice in meals by eating good foods first. Bring good foods into your home. You have the power of the purse. Don’t buy the junk. If it’s in your home they will eat it. Stay away from packaged foods, fries and soda. Buy more fruits and vegetables and make them accessible for taking. Teach your children that you respect your body by what you put into it and they will learn to respect their body too.
- Make some firm house rules. Once food is on the table, they cannot ask for something else. Parents who are short order cooks end up feeding their kids what they want and not what they should have!
- Cut down on kid’s TV time. TV is clearly linked to kids diets. All kids want what they see on TV.
- Get out together for family fun. Bike rides, walks, hikes, or going to a park are good for all families.
- As school starts, be aware of school lunches. They are typically not too healthy. Make your kids lunches and add healthy snacks. At least you have control of what they bring to school. At first, much of it will come back home again.
The obesity problem in children is caused by lifestyle choices made by families. It is rarely caused by thyroid or other hormone issues. If we teach our children a healthy lifestyle, that will be a lesson that can add years onto their lives and take away years of suffering with obesity related illnesses. Take control of their diet when they are young. Hold onto that control during grade school. Show them other means of staying healthy through exercise and activity. You will all add years to your enjoyment of each other.