September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Shockingly childhood obesity disease affects 1 in 6 children and teenagers in the United States. A sign of childhood obesity is a weight well above the average for a child’s height and age. If left unchecked, research shows that these children are more likely to become obese adults, which can lead to serious, chronic health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Childhood Obesity Awareness Month aims to help alleviate obesity by arming parents, teachers, and the community with tools to help solve this crisis. Here are six ways adults can work together to help children lead healthy and active lives.
Be Aware of Your Child’s Growth
Each individual has a unique size and shape. Determining what is considered a “healthy” weight for children and teens is found by using a Body Mass Index Calculator (BMI). Essentially, BMI is found by dividing weight by height. After BMI is calculated, a percentage is obtained and this percentage can show where your child or teen falls on a growth chart. A high percentage for height-to-weight may indicate obesity, while a low percentage may indicate a child is underweight. These percentages express a child’s BMI relative to children in the U.S. who participated in national surveys that were conducted from 1963 to 1965 and 1988 to 1994. Knowing where your child falls nationally is the first step in understanding whether he or she is considered obese.
Make Drinking Water a Priority
Even as an adult, it is hard to drink plain water when thirsty. So many beverage choices are available, from a 12-ounce glass of orange juice in the morning, which has 157 to 168 calories, to a 12-ounce glass of 1 percent milk at dinner, which has 154 calories, extra weight can be added quickly and easily through beverages alone. In truth, it would be great if orange juice and milk were the only sources of all of the added calories from beverages since they provide added nutritional benefits. But unfortunately, most of the calories kids drink come in the form of sugary sodas and performance drinks. These beverages often replace water as the drink kids choose when they are thirsty. Limiting or completely eliminating these drinks from a child’s diet can drastically reduce their overall daily caloric intake.
Encourage Physical Activity
It’s difficult to get kids to do their homework, let alone convince them to get up and move. Favorite past times these days include texting, social media, and video games – all of which can be done from the comfort of a couch. Something as simple as running at the park on the weekend or taking the dog for a walk are good ways to move a body. For additional ideas, the Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy has some great resources.
Provide Healthy Snack Options
Kids generally come home from school ravenous. Replace the chips, cupcakes, and sweets with fruits, vegetables with ranch, cheese and crackers, or a handful of popcorn. Healthy choices don’t need to be bland or boring. Allow kids to be creative and have plenty of options available. With a little effort and planning, kids can eat a nutritious low-calorie, low-sugar snack to help stay at a healthy weight.
Be a Role Model
Shaping children’s habits begins with what they see their parents doing. If you aren’t making exercise and healthy eating a priority, chances are your children won’t either. But having a positive effect on your children’s lives goes beyond what they see you doing. Feeding their brain through conversation and attention is equally as important as what goes into their mouths. Studies show that the parent-child relationship has a direct effect on a child’s happiness. That being said, it is not being suggested that parents are creating their child’s weight problem; however, parental involvement in a child’s life is crucial for their health and well-being.
Help Create a Healthy School Environment
Involvement at home is just the beginning. If parents have the time and resources, another step to creating healthy kids is to get involved with the schools. Understanding what is being served at school for lunch, how birthdays are celebrated, and what children have access to eat and drink when not at home are all important factors in working toward solving the epidemic of childhood obesity. Some schools have vending machines full of sweets and sugary sodas. Marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages sends mixed messages to students about healthy eating. Parental involvement in shaping these issues helps keep children on track with healthy food choices while they are outside the home.
When parents, schools, and the community work together, everyone can have a role in making healthier foods, beverages, and physical activity the easy choice for children and adolescents to help prevent childhood obesity.