Children and obesity - a frightening (and touchy) subject that the medical community is warning us about. It will lead to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and a whole slew of other conditions that may see the next generation as the first to NOT outlive their parents.
I live in a college town where people tend to be pretty healthy and vegetarianism and physical fitness are ways of life. One of my toddlers has a weight problem - of the skinny variety and her pediatrician has told me that many of her young patients are underweight. "We're the opposite of the norm here," she told me. "People are so focused on a healthy lifestyle that they can't get enough fat into their kids!" Oh believe me, Dr., we try. But some kids are just skinny. Some doctors have told me to plaster butter over EVERYTHING and to add fat in every meal she has. Great, I think. She’ll end up a normal toddler with clogged arteries.
But what about the rest of the nation? Aren't we all a nation of fatties? Isn't that what the headlines scream? We're not all overweight but a lot of us adults are. Close to two thirds of us, in fact.
And our children? According to Kids Health, "since the 1970s, the percentage of overweight kids and adolescents in the United States has more than doubled. Today, 10% of 2- to 5-year-olds and more than 15% of children between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight. If you combine the percent of kids who are overweight with the percent of kids who are at risk of becoming overweight, about one out of three children are affected." (www.kidshealth.org)
The fallout to these statistics is that children are now at risk for diseases that were once only adult concerns. Parents used to worry about bad grades and smoking and their kid hanging with the wrong crowd. But heart disease? Not until recently.
An evening watching Discovery Health will usually have at least one show about a teenager having gastric bypass. Overweight teens are showing signs of developing type-2 diabetes as well as showing arteries that are in danger of blocking.
What can we do to help prevent heart disease in our children?
More things than charity begin at home…
Overweight children are more likely to have overweight parents. When parents have a healthy lifestyle, their children are more apt to follow suit. Certainly hereditary issues play some part, but as doctors have said "heredity loads the gun - the environment pulls the trigger." Behavior is not hereditary but is definitely handed down through generations. When the grandparent overeats, so does the parent, so does the child. And the cycle continues.
When children begin their lives with healthy foods, they are more likely to continue that way. Even though my own children are strict vegetarians, it's a wrong assumption to think that they won’t need to battle weight or bad eating habits. Ice-cream and chocolate are vegetarian foods! Here are some things I have done with my own -
Fruits and veggies are part of daily foods. We don't fuss about it or make a big point. They just...are.
We choose high fiber foods like fiber enriched cereals or oatmeal for breakfast and whole grain sandwiches for lunch. A sprinkling of Parmesan cheese over broccoli at dinner time can ease a child into enjoying vegetables.
It's ok to admit to having used food as bait or reward. I'm guilty of it myself. "If you sit down and stop yelling for the rest of the flight, I'll get you ice-cream." Hey, when 300 people are staring at your mutinous 2 year old and the plane has only been in the air for 15 minutes, you do what you have to do. It beats the “don’t make me put you outside the door – it’s a long way down…” talk. Whatever works in a crisis. However, we need to teach our kids that food is a source of nutrition and energy and not a source of comfort or reward. A child should be verbally rewarded “Great job, you made a really good effort!” Or given a hug or stickers, instead of being handed a candy. Eat a balanced diet yourself. There is no point giving fruit salad to your kid and eating pizza beside him. Children mirror their parents to the point of absurdity. You’ll find that out when you accidently swear and your kid repeats it 7 weeks later. In front of Grandpa.
Limit T.V. and video games. There’s nothing wrong with a movie but head outside – daily. Even in winter, kids are fine to walk, as long as it’s not dangerously cold, they are wrapped up well, and are not out for too long. Sledding is fantastic exercise – for adults as well as kids. The fun part is sledding down, but you have to climb your way up first! If you are near a playground, walk there with your kids.
Watch your children’s portions! Portions now are nearly twice what they were in the 1970s. Portions the size of your child’s fist are considered a good ballpark estimate but you can double that if you’re talking veggies!
Eat at the kitchen table. Not only is this a great time to talk with your child about his or her day, but they can enjoy and appreciate their food. When we eat in front of the television we tend to eat more without enjoying our food. Use fruit, cheeses and yogurts as dessert.
We cannot fully control our children’s health. People succumb to heart diseases that live very healthy lives. But we can control what we feed our children and how much they exercise. And these factors can directly influence their health. Parents are the biggest influence in their child’s life and a healthy start can mean a healthy heart – for life.
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