Childhood Obesity: What Can You Do About It?

Parents always want the best for their children. They want to keep them safe, happy, and nurture them to grow into thriving individuals. If there was something you could do to help your child, would you do it? Childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic in the United States, and worldwide (3). Rates are higher among Hispanic and African-American children than their white counterparts (1), and females are more susceptible than males (3). It is important to be aware of what effects obesity have on your children now and later down the road. There are ways to prevent future chronic illness and try to ensure the health of your child, so why wouldn’t you try?

What is the Effect of Childhood Obesity?

Childhood obesity is a widespread occurrence in the population. 1 in 6 children are obese, and 1 in 3 children are either overweight or obese (1). These are staggering statistics and have not decreased in recent years. Children with obesity are at a higher risk for chronic health issues such as asthma, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Almost 60% of children who are overweight have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (2). Children who are obese or overweight are also more likely to remain so as adults than their normal-weight peers (1). It is essential to try to prevent these diseases and encourage health while children are young.

Not only are children affected physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Those who are overweight or obese are more likely to be teased or bullied by their peers (2). Peer ridicule sets children up for numerous issues, including body image issues, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and more.

Many factors cause obesity, including genetic predisposition, environmental, and social factors (3). Although some may have a predisposition to become overweight or obese, some things can be done to help prevent your children from experiencing this.

How Can You Help as a Parent?

There are several things that you as a parent can do to encourage healthy habits in your children. It is important to remember to provide encouragement, support, and lead by example. Children look to their parents as role models, so if you are practicing these things as well, they will surely follow. Below are a few ways to help your children stay happy and healthy.

  • Encourage healthy eating habits: replace snacks that are high in calories with other sweet treats such as fresh fruit (2)
  • Help your children stay active: find activities you can do together
  • Limit screen time: television, laptop/tablet usage causes children to become sedentary. Try to encourage other activities to get your kids up and moving
  • Avoid using food as a reward: western culture often uses food as a reward which can cause unhealthy habits (3)

Also be careful not to force your child to focus on their weight. Parental pressure can cause emotional and mental issues and counteracts what you are trying to accomplish. Never place your child on a weight reduction plan without consulting a health care provider first (2). Weight reduction plans can be harmful to a child if not necessary or done correctly. Instead, use tips from the list above and make small, daily changes to better your child’s health.

Benefits of Being Active

There are many reasons as to why you should encourage your child to be active. Being active develops strong bones and teaches motor skills. It also decreases blood pressure which is important to fight risk factors for potential cardiovascular diseases down the road. Being active reduces anxiety and helps to build self-esteem (2). If you refer again to earlier in this discussion about the effects that being obese or overweight can have on health, you may notice that being active counteracts several of those things. Okay, so being active is so great, but what ways can you get your children moving?

Saginaw County has several parks that you can take your children to so that they can enjoy playing. There are trails, playgrounds, and more!  Additionally, the parks have free admission for Saginaw County residents. Click here to visit the Saginaw County Parks and Recreation page to find more information on the parks.

Saginaw township also offers youth sports programs such as flag football and volleyball. Utilizing these programs are a great way to encourage your children to get active by playing a sport that they enjoy! Click here to get to the website for more information on programs offered.

The Mid Michigan Children’s Museum is a fun place for your kids to stay active and keep their minds busy, even on a rainy day.

The Saginaw Children’s Zoo is another fun place to get your children outdoors, learning, and engaging in activities. They have fun programs such as Backyard Biology, Lunch and Learn, and more.

Even just having fun with your kids riding bikes around the block, playing catch in the yard, or playing hopscotch on the sidewalk will encourage them to be active. Get creative and find what your child likes doing!

How to Eat Healthy

Now that we have discussed ways to encourage your children to be active, how can you change their diet to match their active lifestyle?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has useful tools and links on their website to resources that can help you figure out the best way to feed your kids. There is a BMI calculator to determine your child’s weight status. There is also a MyPlate plan that helps calculate an appropriate food plan for your child. The website also contains several recipes to help you kickstart your family’s healthy eating.

Are you or someone you know struggling to find access to healthy foods? There are several community resources in Saginaw County that can help you. During the summer, the YMCA hosts Summer Mission Nutrition, where children ages 1-18 can get free meals. Other organizations such as the Old Town Christian Outreach Center offer soup kitchens and grocery/clothing distribution. A quick internet search may help find access to these resources and help your children remain healthy throughout the entire year.

Childhood obesity is a threat to our children, and it is essential that you as a parent protect them the best you can. Encourage healthy lifestyle changes in your family, such as eating fresh produce and engaging in regular physical activity. It will serve your children well and prevent future illness and disease. If you are unsure of what steps you should be taking, refer to a health care provider. They can guide you to do what is best for your children. After all, they deserve it.

References:

(1) Child Obesity. (2016, April 08). Retrieved October 6, 2018, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-trends/global-obesity-trends-in-children/

(2) Healthy Weight. (2018, May 23). Retrieved October 6, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/children/

(3) Sahoo K, Sahoo B, Choudhury AK, Sofi NY, Kumar R, Bhadoria AS. Childhood obesity: causes and consequences. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care. 2015;4(2):187-192. doi:10.4103/2249-4863.154628.