How did childhood obesity become a major problem in this country? Whose fault is it? Who is to blame? Is it parents, the school system, television, marketing agencies, grocery stores, the medical system or do we dare blame the child? There’s plenty of blame to go around.
OVERWEIGHT CHILDREN, LET’S DEAL WITH IT – SOLVING THE CHILDHOOD OBESITY ISSUE
Instead of playing the “blame game”, what is the solution? Each of us has a role to play. Over the past 30 years, the incidence of childhood obesity has tripled. Do we have time to take out of our children’s lives to point fingers or do we just get to work to finding, solving and resolving this issue. What do we have at our disposal in the meantime to conquer this problem and save the health of our children and their future? This future is being halted and shortened by the overwhelming increase of type II diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and other dis-eases which were once considered “old age” problems.
It’s difficult to discuss childhood obesity without mentioning obesity in adults. A child who is obese increases his or her chance of being an obese adult by 70%. This is an absurd statistic for a country that claims to be one of the richest and most health conscious nations on earth. Not to mention the millions, even billions of dollars spent annually on diet and other weight-related products and programs. Many children are growing up without the benefit of eating fresh fruits and veggies on a regular basis -- no French fries are NOT in the vegetable portion of the food pyramid.
Our children’s eating habits have been greatly influenced by commercials and advertising. It’s difficult for parents, not to mention children, to decipher all the information coming at us on a daily basis – eat this, don’t eat that, this is good for you, this is bad for you! It is the parents’ responsibility to make sure their child eats a well-balanced diet. But how can they convince them to eat fresh apples, strawberries, broccoli, spinach and other fruits and vegetables when the closest to these can be the artificial flavors in the latest, greatest cereal, breakfast tart, or other packaged foods shown on the commercials between their favorite cartoon, television show, website and social media page sending the message that what they are consuming is what’s best for them.
How is a parent who has worked long and hard all day and then has to figure out what to fix for dinner. It can be easier to stop at a fast food restaurant and pick up the “dollar meal” which not only is quick but inexpensive. But what is the REAL price paid in making this choice over the long haul? Is it your child’s present and future health? So what’s a mother/father to do? A major factor to consider in these days is economics.
The current state of the economy has a significant influence on how much money is actually available to purchase quality food products. Many people are finding it difficult to get and maintain employment even though there may be many jobs available, wages do not keep pace with the increase in the cost of living. So even when families are doing their best to eat properly, it is a challenge. The working poor are struggling to keep their head above water and at the same time ensure their children are fed properly.
How do you begin to make changes in your and your children’s eating habits?
- Don’t make a big announcement such as “we are no longer going to be eating junk food in THIS house anymore!” This is a surefire way to start a rebellion unlike you’ve ever heard! Have you been told that you can no longer have something? It seems to make you want it even more. It’s the same with our children. Unless you or your child is dealing with some serious and immediate health issues, make small, gradual changes by introducing a new fruit, vegetable, whole grain item weekly or monthly.
- Support through example. Above all else, your child needs your help and participation in the process of gaining and maintaining a healthy weight. Don’t make it “their” problem. Remember, obesity in adults is also a major problem. Even if you are not overweight, your child needs to see that you are looking out for your health also. You can’t expect them to eat fresh fruit and veggies while you continue with your unhealthy habits. Include them in the process without being “preachy” about it. Who wants to be “nagged” to health! Even if it’s good for you!
- Make age-appropriate adjustments. The younger the child is, the easier it is to correct unhealthy habits, the better, but it is NEVER TOO LATE! Teenagers may have already developed some habits that may be more difficult to manage and they are also on their own for much of the day and are influenced more by outside sources. They have more access to fast food establishments, vending machines, etc. When my children were teens, I addressed this by not have any junk food in the house because I knew they would get their share outside of the home.
Our healthcare system does not adequately address the prevention of dis-ease. It seems to still be in a “sick” mode. It waits until you have developed a problem and then attempts to “fix” it. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, even when going to healthcare professionals, only 57% of Non-Hispanic Blacks between the ages of 2-17 were advised to eat healthy.
Prevention, education and implementing solutions are key. Dealing with obesity should begin in the womb. Before becoming parents, mom and dad should consider their current state of health so that their unborn child stands a chance of being born without pre-existing or potentially inherited health issues. Education on how to nourish our children’s growing bodies is needed from birth up to adulthood. The Standard American Diet (or SAD – isn’t it?) consists of mainly of 50% carbohydrates, 35% fat and 15% protein. Also, included are large amounts of refined sugar, artificially flavored and sweetened products. There is controversy over whether this type of diet is responsible for many of the health issues Americans of all ages are experiencing. As a natural health professional, I have witnessed many of my clients’ health and weight improve drastically by making simple and gradual changes in their eating habits.
BEGIN WITH SIMPLE CHANGES
There is no “cookie cutter” solution to each person’s road to health however; these simple, basic steps can be the beginning of the journey.
- Cut back on sugary drinks.
- Increase water intake.
- Set goal to drink approximately half your body weight in ounces of water. For example, a child weighing 100 lbs. should drink 50 ounces of water each day. Start small and increase until goal is reached.
- Gradually increase fresh veggies (ex. Add fresh veggies to pizza, add extra lettuce such as spinach, romaine or spring greens (not iceberg) to sandwiches and meals
- Pay attention to portion sizes.
- Switch to whole grain products. Replace white rice with brown rice; white spaghetti with whole wheat; white bread with whole wheat and whole grain breads, etc.
- Eat off a salad plate instead of dinner plate. It keeps you from overeating.
- Replace unhealthy fats with good fats such as olive oil, sesame oil and flax oil
- Eliminate or greatly reduce fried foods, replace with baked, broiled, stir fried.
- Make out menus for week (prior to grocery shopping). This reduces the chance of overspending on items that are unhealthy.
- Eliminate and/or reduce the amount of canned foods purchased. Canned foods have NO nutritional value and are high in sodium (even if it says low sodium). Buy fresh or frozen.
- Limit time spent in front of TV, on video games, computer. Reduce and/or replace salty and sugary snacks with raw nuts and sliced fruit such as apples, oranges, strawberries, or your favorite fruit
- Allow children to participate in food preparation. Have 1 or 2 days during week set aside as a special time to do this.
- BE AN EXAMPLE – it’s a FAMILY AFFAIR!
Although many school systems are working to improve the quality of food being served to our children, it is a plan that, in my opinion, has a long way to go. The basic food groups: fruits vegetables, whole grains and proteins are all necessary for a balanced diet.
It’s not solely about eating right, movement is necessary to help to reduce the possibility of fat settling in the arteries and throughout the body resulting in gaining excess weight. Exercise is another extremely important component in the fight against obesity.
Back in the day, recess and physical education were important parts of the daily routine of education. It is recommended that children get an hour of exercise 5-6 times a week. Our nation’s First Lady, Michelle Obama, has set out to help increase awareness and find solutions to this major problem through her “Let’s Move program which emphasizes healthy eating and exercise.
This is an excellent step and she is example of practicing what you preach! One of the simplest exercises you and your child can do is walking. Make it a habit to walk with your child at least 2-3 times a week for 30-40 minutes. This can be in addition to any sports activities he or she may be involved in.
Also, use this time to bond with your child and find out what’s going on with them or any other way you may find beneficial. There is no magic bullet to end the dilemma of obesity, especially in children. However, by taking one step at a time with one child at a time, a huge dent can be made to reduce the long term affects associated with this problem and at the same time increase the quality of the lives of our children -- our future.