Children and Diets, NOT a Good Combination! Focus on Healthy Eating Habits & Exercise Instead!
According to the CBS Evening News childhood obesity has TRIPLED in the last thirty years. If that fact isn't alarming, I don't know what is! Unfortunately, children are getting fatter and it is no laughing matter. Overweight children have a very good chance of turning into overweight adults. As you probably already know, overweight adults tend to have medical issues such as diabetes, heart problems and high blood pressure, just to name a few. Therefore, if you have an overweight child, it is very important that you address the problem sooner rather than later. How you address the problem is also very important.
Dealing with an overweight child is a very sensitive matter and should be treated as such. Before doing anything, it is very important that you speak to your child's pediatrician as childhood weight issues tend to be quite complex. It is also important that you do not impose an adult diet or body standard on your growing child as doing so could cause psychological, emotional and even physical damage! It is important to get to the root of the problem. Therefore, as previously mentioned, you should consult with a pediatrician so that medical problems (such as endocrine disorder) can be ruled out. Once it is clear that your child is NOT overweight due to a medical condition a weight loss program that is appropriate can be discussed and implemented.
Fat Parent, Fat Child?
I'm sure you have heard the saying, "the apple doesn't fall from the tree." If the parents within the family unit are struggling with obesity and weight issues, more often than not, the children will too. After all, children learn valuable life lessons from their parents and how to eat and prepare healthy meals is no exception. Genes can also play a part when it comes to childhood obesity. However, more often than not, children are overweight simply because they eat poorly and do not exercise enough.
A Very Sensitive Situation
I cannot stress enough the importance of dealing with your child's weight problem in an extremely sensitive manner. Many overweight children deal with teasing and name calling at school. They don't need their parents chiming in too. I was an overweight child and, to this day, can remember my father calling me porky. I would laugh and pretend that his name calling was funny. Only after my father left the room would I break down and cry. Remember, words HURT so choose them carefully!
The Word DIET - Not a Good Idea!
According to the American Pediatric Association, children with a BMI OVER the 95th percentile for age and sex fall into the obese category. For obvious reasons, they should undergo a complete medical evaluation. They should also lose weight. However, weight loss should be a very SLOW process and under the supervision of a doctor. Children who are overweight but fall beneath the 95th percentile should concentrate more on the development of healthy eating and exercise habits and less on actual weight loss. Little or no emphasis should be put on weight loss itself and the word diet should be used sparingly, if at all! Why? Well my friends, we are living in a world that is very tough on overweight individuals; especially children and young adults. Pick up any magazine and you will see page after page of beautiful, extremely thin women and well toned, muscular men. The last thing you want to do is make your child feel bad about their body.
Television and movies often praise very thin people while the overweight are often ridiculed. Even celebrities who are considered a healthy weight by medical standards are put down and called fat by various media outlets. Very young children have a healthy indifference to unrealistic influences and peer pressure but, in time, your child will begin to become aware of what Hollywood considers "acceptable" when it comes to weight. They will also begin to notice the beautiful women and handsome men on the cover of those magazines and the pretty, skinny girls that appear in television commercials. The pressure that many children and young adults put on themselves when it comes to looking like a Hollywood celebrity or super model is not only unhealthy, it is extremely unrealistic! Your job as a parent is to teach your child that they are loved and accepted no matter what they look like. It is your job to nurture a POSITIVE BODY IMAGE! By throwing around the word diet or constantly talking about weight you could very well send the wrong message. Remember, children follow by example. If you are constantly dieting and complaining about YOUR weight, they will begin to worry about theirs, and NOT in a good way.
In 1994, Glamour Magazine conducted a study of 4000 young women, examining the effects that their mothers' dieting had on their eating habits. The study showed that young women who grew up with mothers who were constantly talking about their weight and dieting soon became "chronic dieters" themselves. The study also revealed that overweight girls who were teased by their fathers often developed body image issues as well as poor self esteem. When it comes to your overweight child, leave the word DIET at the door! After all, people come in all shapes and sizes! By letting your child know that they are loved just the way they are will allow them to feel good about themselves and boost their self esteem! It is also important to allow your child to express their thoughts about their size and body shape. By encouraging open dialogue with your child, not only will you know how he (or she) is feeling about his or her body, you will also have the opportunity to discuss healthy eating habits and exercise…which should be the topic at hand…NOT DIETING!
Let's Get Moving!
What happened to the days of bike riding and fort building? It appears as if those days disappeared along with the Good Humor Man and the twenty-five cent bottle of Coca Cola! Video games and computers have replaced Big Wheels and Freeze Tag. Unfortunately, the children of today spend the majority of their free time in front of a television set or computer screen! Ask a kid if they want to play Kick the Can or Red Light Green Light and they probably won't know what you are talking about. In fact, they will probably look at you as if you just arrived from the planet Mars. However, if you ask a child if they want to play Mario Kart, a popular video game, they will most likely jump for joy and ask who gets to go first. Ok, I'll admit, Kick the Can is probably a bad example. After all, I'm forty years old and I didn't play Kick the Can when I was a child. However, I think you get my point.
Did you know that seventeen percent of the kids in the United States of America qualify as OBESE? One person that is extremely passionate about the health of our nation's children is Michelle Obama. Recently, Mrs. Obama launched the "Let's Move!" campaign. The goal of this campaign is to eliminate childhood obesity within a generation. While her goal may be somewhat ambitious this campaign is absolutely necessary.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children five and older get at least ONE HOUR of moderate to vigorous exercise every day of the week! Physical activity is very important as not only does it burn calories, it also helps to develop a child's coordination and self confidence. It can often be difficult to get a child moving, especially if they live a sedentary lifestyle. However, there are things you can do to encourage your child when it comes to exercise and physical activity. Below are a few ideas.
- Make exercising fun! Plan family activities such as nature walks and hikes in the park. If your family enjoys water, plan a canoe trip!
- Encourage your child to join a team sport such as soccer or baseball. If they try one particular sport and don't like it, simply switch to another. Not only will your child get much needed exercise, he or she will make new friends as well! Be sure to attend all of your child's games so that they know you are interested and there to encourage them!
- If possible, join the local pool and go swimming. You never know, your child may even want to join the swim team!
- Dust off your old bike and take your child bike riding.
- Buy each member of the family a jump rope and have family jump roping tournaments! Better yet, if you have a large family, divide into teams and have relay races around the yard.
- Take up sports that the entire family can do such as skiing or ice skating. Back packing is also fun!
- TURN OFF THE TELEVISION AND LIMIT COMPUTER and VIDEO GAME TIME!!!
- Finally, talk to your child about what activities he or she may be interested in. You never know, they may have some good exercise ideas of their own! Remember, open dialogue is VERY important!
Though physical activity is absolutely crucial you need to be aware of your child's size and possible limitations when considering various sports and outdoor activities for them to participate in. The last thing you want to do is embarrass your child or discourage them. For example, if you know that your child is uncoordinated, don't choose a difficult sport such as tennis. Choose an activity at which they will excel and one they will enjoy. Once your child has been active for a while you can suggest new and more challenging sports and activities.
Time to Eat!
As a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure that your child is eating nutritious foods. After all, YOU are the one that prepares the family meals and does the grocery shopping! It is also your job to help your child develop normal, healthy eating habits. This may be easier said than done. After all, there is a McDonalds on just about every corner. But, there are many ways to incorporate healthy eating habits into your child's daily life. It is also important to note that all children in the family, no matter what their size, be treated equally when it comes to food. Allowing your normal weight child to eat a large piece of chocolate cake in front of your overweight child (who just so happens to be munching on a carrot) is not only cruel, it is completely unnecessary! It is just as important for a child of normal weight to develop healthy eating habits as a child who happens to be overweight. With that being said, below are some tips and ideas that you may find helpful when it comes to healthy eating.
- Let the pyramid be your guide! The Food Guide Pyramid is a GREAT place to start when it comes to choosing healthy foods for your child. When planning a meal or snack, make sure to include a protein, carbohydrate and a small amount of fat. Meals that are carbohydrate heavy tend to satisfy hunger for only a short time. By adding a protein and a fat you will be providing a well-rounded meal that will keep your child full for hours. Yogurt, a small amount of cheese or even some fresh fruit are all wonderful snack ideas! To find out more about the Food Guide Pyramid, please visit the United States Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines Website! It is VERY useful and loaded with interesting tips and advice.
- Set a good example! Children are like sponges; they absorb everything they hear and see! You should eat the same foods that you expect your child to eat. If your child is drinking fat free milk then you should drink fat free milk. Saying one thing and doing another will only send mixed messages!
- Never use food as a weapon! Just as food should not be used as a form of punishment, it should not be used as a reward either!
- If your child isn't a fan of vegetables there are several things you can try. For example, add vegetables to main courses…such as peas mixed in with macaroni and cheese or small bits of shredded carrots mixed into spaghetti sauce. Most of the time, your child won't even notice! The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious are two wonderful books that are full of sneaky yet inventive ways to hide vegetables! Though you want your child to understand that vegetable are an important part of a healthy diet, if they absolutely refuse to eat them, adding them in to other foods is a great way to ensure that they are getting the vitamins and minerals that they desperately need. Another great idea is to grow a family vegetable garden. Not only will you and your child get exercise and fresh air, you will be growing your very own food source. Most kids love to eat vegetables that they actually grew themselves and are proud to share them with their family. Finally, if your child isn't a fan of cooked vegetables simply offer them a variety of raw veggies. Raw vegetables are wonderful, healthy snacks!
- Teach your child to listen to his or her body by allowing them to decide when to stop eating. Encourage them to recognize when they are hungry and when they are full. This allows a child to take responsibility of his or her own body and lets them know that you trust them. Constantly scolding your child by telling them to stop eating or that they have had enough can be very discouraging. Teaching your child to recognize these signs at an early age can be very beneficial as many adults don't recognize these signs or simply choose to ignore them. The goal is to implement healthy eating habits early so that your child will carry them into adulthood.
Raising a child in today's world can be extremely difficult. Add obesity into the mix and you face an entirely new set of challenges. Constantly talking to your child about dieting and weight loss can most certainly back fire and send the wrong message. Instead, become your child's biggest advocate! Teach them about healthy eating habits and the importance of exercise. Build their confidence and let them know that you love and accept them for who they are! No matter what size! Set a good example by preparing and eating healthy meals. Plan outings that include plenty of fresh air, exercise and family bonding time! Keep the lines of communication between you and your child open at all times so that they are comfortable talking to you, no matter what the subject may be. Doing all of these things will provide your child with the foundation and confidence that they will need as they grow older and maybe, just maybe, they will one day pick up that magazine with the extremely thin model on the cover and instead of idolizing her…will say, "wow, she's too thin. She needs to gain a few pounds!" Good luck and here's to healthy eating habits and plenty of exercise!