How many children do you know that struggle with their weight? Years ago, most children were lean and trim. With the changes in the food industry today, it seems that so many children are not only suffering from obesity, but also suffer from skin issues, food allergies, eating disorders, and high cholesterol, just to name a few.
Here are some disturbing statistics on childhood obesity. For ages 6-11, the prevalence of obesity increased from 4% in 1971-1974 to 18% in 2009-2010. And for ages 12-19, the prevalence of obesity increased from 6.1% – 18.4% for the same time frame.
So the question is, why are children overweight? There are a variety of reasons. Genetic factors, lack of physical activity, larger portion sizes and unhealthy eating patterns can play a big part in this problem. Obesity is diagnosed as the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same sex. Today, nearly 1 out of 4 children and teens are overweight.
Sadly, those extra pounds put children at risk for developing serious health problems including diabetes, asthma, heart disease, as well as the emotional toll on self-esteem.
Another big issue for our children is the excessive sugar intake in their diets today. The American Heart Association recommends sugar intake limited to 3 teaspoons or 12g per day. A soda contains 10 teaspoons or 40 g of added sugar a day. Some kids drink multiple cans of soda per day. Sugar can be hidden in breads, canned soups and vegetables. 75% of packaged food contains added sugar.
As parents, it is our responsibility to help our children stay healthy and learn how to eat in a healthy way. Below are some steps you can take to get started making healthy changes for your family:
- Be a role model. You can’t expect your children to eat vegetables, while you are sitting there eating a bag of chips.
- Disguise the taste of healthier foods. Add vegetables to a soup by pureeing it. Slice up an apple with an organic caramel dip. Add vegetables to a fruit smoothie (they won’t even notice it).
- Cook more meals at home and cook in bulk. Committing to home cooking will have a huge impact on your children’s health. Restaurant food most times have more sugar and unhealthy fat than when you cook at home.
- Take your kids shopping with you and teach them how to read labels and pick out produce. Have your kids prepare meals and healthy snacks with you, such as chopping vegetables, shredding carrots, etc.
- Keep healthy snacks available at all times. Cut up vegetables, fruits, oatmeal muffins, roasted chick peas, organic chips and hummus are all good choices.
- Limit portion sizes and do not force children to finish their plate. Their bodies will tell them when they are full. Force-feeding can lead to dysfunctional eating habits.
- Statistics indicate that children that eat breakfast have a better memory, more stable moods and energy, and score higher on tests. Breakfast does not need to be time- consuming. A simple piece of fruit or sprouted toast and apple butter is a quick and healthy choice.
- Sit down to dinner as a family. Regular meals provide emotional comfort for the kids and foster a connection. You can also teach by example and monitor their eating habits.
- Limit sugar and refined carbohydrates (these foods are stripped of fiber and nutrients. And can include many breakfast cereals). Added sugars and processed foods cause spikes in blood sugar, fluctuations in mood and energy and increases health problems.
- Stick to choosing complex carbs, which high in nutrients and fiber. Foods such as potatoes, beans, quinoa and other grains are good choices. Natural sugar from fruits is a good choice as well, due to the nutrients and vitamins they contain.
- Encourage exercise. Lead by example and do something together. This could be as simple as taking a walk with the family dog.
- Ban sugary drinks. Make your own iced tea, or add a splash of organic juice into carbonated mineral water.
- Make your own smoothies, fruit pops and ice cream with some simple recipes.
- Don’t ban sweets entirely. Try to find healthier versions of some of the sweets they like and limit them to once per day
- Give recipes a makeover. There is always a healthier way to prepare typical sugary foods. Chocolate chip cookies can be made with less sugar and better ingredients.
- Do a search on websites such as Pinterest for healthier ideas.
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