September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Although childhood obesity has continued to rise over the past two decades, there are ways to promote healthy growth in children and to take preventative steps for your child. About 1 in 5 (19%) children in the United States have obesity. This month provides a good opportunity to learn about this major health problem and to support our children on their journey to good health.
8 Tips to Prevent Childhood Obesity
- Develop healthy eating habits. When establishing healthy eating habits, it’s important to remember that small changes every day can have lasting success. Start by limiting sugary drinks, the consumption of sugar and saturated fats. Encourage your family to drink lots of water. Choose lean meats like poultry and fish for your protein. When choosing dairy products, switch to low-fat or non-fat dairy products, including milk, cheese and yogurt. Balance your meals with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products.
- Limit treats and snacks. Keep high-fat and high-sugar or salty snacks as treats only. Allowing children to eat these rarely can help them develop healthy eating habits. When choosing healthy snacks for your children, keep freshly cut fruits and vegetables handy and within their reach.
- Watch portion sizes. Use smaller utensils and smaller plates to motivate children to take appropriate serving sizes of higher calorie foods. When going out to eat, have a family discussion about the portion sizes and encourage your family to take half of the meal home to enjoy later.
- Eat breakfast. There’s a reason, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is a cliché at this point, since skipping meals, especially breakfast, has been associated with obesity. It may be hard to find the time to serve your children a healthy breakfast every morning but look for on-the-go options that they can still enjoy.
- Cook with your kids. Children love to imitate and help out. Letting your little ones participate in preparing your meals will help them become engaged with food and be more mindful of their choices as they grow.
- Encourage children to stay active. This doesn’t mean having a scheduled exercise routine, playing, family walks and hikes, outdoor games, and riding bicycles all count! Keeping your children active has the added benefit of:
- Helping with weight management
- Strengthening bones
- Decreasing blood pressure
- Increasing their self-esteem
- Reducing stress and anxiety
Adding physical activity to your own routine and sharing that with your child will help your children adopt an active lifestyle throughout their lives.
- Reduce TV and screen time. Studies have shown that people consume more food while they watch TV or engage in their devices. Limit screen time and take that time to reconnect with your family and engage in healthier activities.
- Ensure they are getting enough sleep. Children who do not get enough sleep have a greater risk of developing obesity, so establishing a nighttime routine early is important.
Helping Overweight Children
Helping children who are overweight can be a more complicated issue than just weight loss. Since their bodies are growing and developing, overweight children should not be put on a diet unless they are told to by a medical professional. Their diet needs to have enough nutrients needed to establish normal growth and development.
The goal should be to help your child maintain their current weight while they continue to grow. Encourage them to eat healthier, reduce sedentary activities like watching TV or playing video games, and encourage regular physical activities. You can find helpful dietary guidelines at www.ChooseMyPlate.gov to promote healthy habits and to prevent obesity.
Obesity may be one of the greatest health problems in the United States, but there are steps you can take to keep your family healthy. By keeping nutritious food within reach, encouraging your family to stay active, and displaying healthy eating and lifestyle habits yourself, you can help your children prevent childhood obesity and instill healthy choices that they will continue to make throughout their life.
Advanced Laparoscopic Associates treats patients under 18 for adolescent bariatric surgery. If you and your child are considering surgical options, contact ALA to schedule an appointment today.