An alarming statistic: One in three children is overweight or obese. A longtime trend toward more sedentary lifestyles, bigger portion sizes and more fat and sugary beverage consumption all contribute to the problem.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, obese children face a greater risk of health issues while they are still young, such as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Asthma and sleep apnea
- Type 2 diabetes
- Joint problems
Childhood obesity is also associated with a greater risk of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Overweight children often find themselves the targets of bullying.
Perhaps even more troubling is the potentially lasting impact obesity can have on a child’s future. One study reports that overweight or obese children are more likely to become obese adults. Obesity in adulthood is associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. Adults who have struggled with their weight since childhood are likely to have more severe disease than those who became overweight as adults.
Many find it more difficult to keep the weight off as they get older. According to research cited by the National Institutes of Health, that may be because a key enzyme in our bodies slows down our metabolism. A slower metabolism cannot burn fat as efficiently. That makes exercise and a smart diet even more important, and illustrates why starting good habits early is vital.
While no parent wants their child to grow up unhealthy, busy schedules can get in the way of good intentions. With September marking Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, now can be a good time to focus on healthy exercise and eating habits.
For a healthier diet, work on making meals that revolve around fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole-grain products. For exercise, experts recommend 60 minutes a day for children ages 5 to 17. These recommendations may feel challenging, but they get easier with a little creativity. Below are a few ideas to help your family eat healthier and move more.
A good motivation for exercise or eating healthy is getting the whole family involved. Consider a weekly dance party, jump rope contest or sack race. Maybe even try hula hooping, which the American Council on Exercise says can be a total-body workout, improving flexibility and balance while strengthening muscles. In the kitchen, let the kids pick a nutritional recipe of their choice, have them help shop for ingredients and prepare the meal.
Call it what you want
Kids can be turned off by the words broccoli or cauliflower. To help overcome the fear of eating vegetables, call it by a different name. Whether it be “the enchanted forest” or “Bob the broccoli,” make it fun! Exercises can also take on new identities – maybe next time you’ll be running with lions, tigers and bears.
Get active in your community
You and your child can improve your own health by helping to make a difference in your neighborhood or city. If you’re a pet lover, consider volunteering at a local shelter to walk the dogs. Help in a community garden. Pick up trash in a nearby park. Or, consider offering to mow the lawn for a neighbor in need.
While the facts say children who are obese are more likely to be overweight as adults, it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned about your child, and take steps to start eating right and exercising today.