By Cheryl Simas, Volunteer Blog Contributor
Roughly 19% of children in the U.S. are obese, meaning their weight is significantly above the average for their age and height. Children with obesity are vulnerable to other health problems, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes. These problems arise not only in adulthood, but they begin now in their childhood and teen years.
September is Childhood Obesity Awareness month and we’re recognizing just a few of the many ways you can set your child on the path to a healthy weight and a healthy life.
Studies on childhood health often look at specific categories and factors such as age or geographic region, but in general, certain conclusions can be drawn. For example, childhood obesity is more prevalent:
- In lower income communities
- Among Hispanic and Black communities
- In areas with limited access to fresh food
Many other, additional factors contribute to obesity, including genetics, stress, lack of quality sleep, lack of physical activity, and limited food access. The good news is that with a few simple steps, you can improve your child’s health and reduce their likelihood of becoming obese. The most important thing to remember is that every improvement is a step forward, and even small steps forward will be a great help. Don’t worry about having to change all of your family’s eating habits today. Instead, set a modest goal and take achievable steps toward that goal. Then build on that success.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
The shortest route to obesity and poor health is consuming high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks, including sugary, salty, and fatty snacks like candy, chips, flavored drinks and sodas, processed foods, and many cereals.
Americans in general need to increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables we eat and lower the amount of fat and refined grains we eat. A government report notes:
- About three-fourths of the US population has an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils.
- Most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.
- Average intakes of whole grains are far below recommended levels and average intakes of refined grains are well above recommended limits.
Since adults teach children what and how to eat, this is what children are being taught – so, think before you eat or feed your children.
Here are a few easy guidelines to help:
- Eat a rainbow. In each meal you should see a variety of colors – red, green, blue, yellow, orange, etc. What do you see when you look at your plate? How many rainbow colors are included in your meal?
- Eat close to the ground. That means eating food as close to its natural state as possible. If you can pick lettuce from your own garden, rinse it in clean water and eat it. For most of us that isn’t possible, so take steps toward consuming a minimal amount of processed foods. Eating a potato is better than eating a potato chip. Drinking orange juice is better than having an orange soda, and the best choice is to eat an orange.
- Start by adding. Rather than cutting out a habitual food choice, try adding in a healthy one first. If your family is eating fast food burgers, add a fresh salad (make it look like a rainbow), and serve the salad first.
- Honor the small steps. Even small steps are successes because they are changing habits for the better. Appreciate each small success, and know that each change will support the next change.
Additional Steps to Take Towards Healthier Habits
- Cut sugary drinks out and replace it with water; if it’s too difficult to cut them out cold turkey, true a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio at first.
- Drink water with and before every meal. Your body often mistakes thirst for hunger, so drinking before and during meals allows you to better judge your hunger and reduce overeating. You can add a squeeze of lemon for flavoring, or fill a pitcher with water and some orange slices, cantaloupe, or other fruit, and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator and serve that instead of sugary drinks.
- Pick a minimum of one meal a week to feature fresh-cooked, raw, or minimally processed foods.
- Replace candy and chip snacks with apple slices, carrots, bananas, a small cube of cheese, or almonds.
- Commit to making vegetables fill half of your plate for at least two meals each week. After a few weeks, increase the number of days a week you do this.
- Try using plain non-fat yogurt instead of cream or whole milk when making sauces or dressings. This will lower the fat and increase the protein. You can also use non-fat yogurt to substitute sour cream.
- When buying packaged food, read the nutrition label and ingredients list. Don’t’ buy it if the ingredient list shows one of the first five ingredients as sugar, salt, or a fat.
Your child’s school is hopefully providing exercise and recreation for your children. If not, try to set aside an hour each day for your children to play a sport or physical game. Any activity where they run, jump, or chase a ball will be good for their health. Look for opportunities in your community for swimming, basketball, dance, yoga, soccer, or other physical activities, and let your children see you exercising or riding a bike as well. You can lead them to good health by example.
Be aware of stress and how it may be impacting the food habits in your household. Children (and grown-ups) may be responding to tension at home, at work, or at school with bad eating habits. Most parents feel the pressure of limited time to work, care and provide for their children – but remember, even small steps are positive steps. Try to find a time for a twenty-minute walk with the family once a week, or an evening together playing a board game. Find opportunities for laughter and fun no matter what else is demanding attention and the whole family will benefit.
Check with Your Doctor
When your child visits their doctor, make a point of discussing food, exercise, and the community and home environment. With this information, your doctor is better equipped to make recommendations about stress, sleep, physical activity, and food best suited to your child and your family.
- Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020
- How To Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label
- Infant and Toddler Nutrition
- National Childhood Obesity Month
If you or your child are experiencing weight issues, call our appointment line at (510) 770-8040 to schedule an appointment with one of our pediatricians or one of our primary care clinicians – and don’t forget to ask about our one-on-one nutrition and education counseling!
To keep in touch with Tri-City Health Center, click here.