With new technology, such as video games and live streaming, there’s a growing epidemic facing the next generation of Americans – childhood obesity. This epidemic will have lasting effects on the health, wellbeing and even mental health of our children, all of which they may carry into adulthood.
In addition, the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which caused school closings and limited some physical activities, has generated new lifestyle habits in our youth that were prompted by social constraints. Thus, promoting lifestyle choices for all children has never been more important for families everywhere.
“As a child, I was actually very overweight and struggled to maintain a healthy weight,” Krystal Russell, a nurse practitioner at Mercy Health — Vermilion Primary Care, shares. “As an adult, I have now been able to do so and committed to helping others who may struggle with the same challenges. Ultimately, it’s important to focus on a child’s ‘health’ as opposed to ‘weight.’”
In general, childhood obesity occurs when a child has too much body fat and is then well above the recommended weight for his or her height. The most common measurement tool to determine if a child is obese is the body mass index (BMI) scale. Often, pediatricians will evaluate a child’s BMI during their annual checkups.
“Children being overweight can lead to serious health consequences, such as increased incidents of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, asthma, Type 2 diabetes, orthopedic problems, sleep apnea and overall poor self-esteem,” Krystal explains.
She continues, “behavior, genetics and community circumstances are all factors that can contribute to childhood obesity.”
To prevent these health issues, increasing activity throughout the day is one way to achieve a healthy weight for your child. Experts have increased the recommended daily exercise time for kids from 30 to 60 minutes a day, which may seem like an intimidating increase from current exercise habits. However, it can be helpful to remind children and your family that small durations of movement throughout the day can add up to an hour in no time.
To help get your family moving, reference the following tips:
- limit extended screen time
- walk in the park with the family or a pet
- encourage your child to play a sport
- go swimming in the summer
- perform house chores together, such as vacuuming or dusting
In addition to increasing physical activity, improving the entire family’s nutrition can help achieve a healthy weight in your child. Providing healthy meals and snacks as well as opportunities to make nourishing food choices are positive ways to prevent obesity. Modeling healthy eating behaviors and attitudes at home is critical, too.
Not sure where to start? Allow children to be a part of grocery shopping so they can see how to make healthy choices.
“No matter what, always avoid fad dieting or trends! Children need healthy varied diets, so it is important to not put kids on strict, restrictive diets or engage in excessive amounts of exercise,” Krystal says. “Exercise should be fun and can be ‘play’ for children. Childhood obesity can lead to serious health consequences later in life so we want to make sure we are maintaining a healthy weight during childhood so we can reduce the risks of serious health conditions as people age.”
Krystal adds, “working as a team is one of the best ways for families to set goals to make healthy eating changes and increase physical activity together. By committing to lifestyle changes as a family, you can provide your child greater support and set them up for success.”
You can work with your pediatrician and primary care provider to set small yet challenging goals for increased exercise and healthier diet to ensure you’re taking the right steps for your family. He or she may also be able to provide family-based programs.
While the road to a healthy weight for your child may seem daunting, small changes every day can make a big difference overtime in your child’s health and wellbeing.