According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity now affects 1 out of 6 adolescents in the United States – that’s roughly 23 million American children. Obesity is defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of children of the same age and sex. (If you are curious about your child’s BMI, use the CDC’s calculator here.)
Why does this matter? Obesity can cause a variety of health problems that can become chronic and affect multiple areas of an individual’s life. Issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes—problems that usually occur in adulthood—are real risks for children who are struggling with their weight. September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month (COAM), and with obesity rates soaring, this month-long celebration of awareness is more important than ever.
COAM aims to bring awareness to this issue and provide a platform for educators, doctors, parents, and elected officials to support ways to fight this epidemic. We support these efforts and encourage healthy eating habits and physical activity for everyone, regardless of age. Here are some suggestions for ways to keep your child’s (and your) weight at a healthy level.
Be a Role Model
Your children look to you for guidance in every aspect of their lives. Model healthy behavior by selecting fruits and vegetables over chips and sweets. Let them see you taking time out of your day to be physically active, even if it’s just a daily walk through the neighborhood. Little steps can make big strides over the long run.
Healthy Eating Habits Start at Home
Provide plenty of healthy snack options for your children. Make fruit and vegetables readily available. Treats are okay in moderation, but make sure they are limited, and seek healthy options. Apples, bananas, and even celery with peanut butter and raisins (“Ants on a Log”) make great, sweet, nutritious treats for snack time.
During meals, make sure your kids’ portion sizes are reasonable. Serving size and portions can be confusing, and many people don’t realize what a healthy portion size consists of, even for adults! The American Heart Association offers this handy chart that details what you should be eating to stay within your targeted calorie count for the day.
Help Them Stay Active
Ideally, young people should be engaging in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-intense physical activity of some kind every day. When the weather is nice, encourage your children to go outside and play. Tag, jump rope, soccer, and swimming are great activities that feel more like fun than they do exercise. If the weather forces you inside, turn on some music and dance in the living room. Find ways to make physical activity both routine and fun in their daily lives.
Be Supportive Emotionally
Degrading and debasing your child about their weight is never okay. If your child is having weight issues, it’s important to address them directly but with compassion. Boost their self-esteem and encourage them to make positive changes in their lives. Negative comments can lead to discouragement and a “why bother?” attitude, which can make the physical problem worse and spark the onset of a whole new set of emotional issues. Realize that you’ll have to help them make little changes and that these changes will be gradual rather than immediate. Encourage and support your children in their journey towards a healthier weight and a positive outlook!
At Meritage Medical Network, we offer classes taught by licensed physical therapists designed to help combat childhood obesity and promote healthier lifestyles. If you have any questions about other ways to encourage healthy habits, contact your primary care physician and consider signing your child up for one of our wellness classes. The road might be long and hard, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, June 16). Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. CDC. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/index.html
COAM. (2012). National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. COAM. Retrieved from https://www.healthierkidsbrighterfutures.org/about/