Preventing Childhood Obesity

The national childhood obesity rate in the U.S. is around 17%. Since 1980, obesity rates in children have tripled and start in earlier ages. In general, focusing on small, permanent changes in diet and exercise to help a child reach and maintain an appropriate body weight is the best way to avoid long-term child obesity issues. While this can be intimidating for some parents or caretakers to take into consideration, simple steps can be taken to help children embrace healthier lives.

Here are some basic practices you can implement to help prevent childhood obesity in your own home, school, church, or daycare center.

1. Focus on Building Healthy Eating Habits

As the parent or caretaker of a child, much of the responsibility rests on your shoulders in their early years. So how can you help them build healthy eating habits early on? Provide them with the options! That may mean cutting out your own favorite sugary snacks or sides to ensure they aren’t tempted or frustrated by your own lack of health-conscious diet.

Make sure to stock your fridge and pantry with plenty of fresh veggies, fruits, and whole-grain products. Opt for low-fat or non-fat milk / dairy products, select leaner meats and proteins, and avoid sugary drinks such as soda, fruit juice, or Gatorade. Also, make sure portion sizes are appropriate (you may have to cut these down more than you are used to).

Lastly, make sure your entire family is drinking plenty of water!

2. Eliminate Sugary & Calorie-Heavy Snacks

Does your child love certain snacks? Try substituting them for a “healthier” version. In many cases, substitutes can taste similar or give your child that same snack feeling they love, without the damaging calories or sugars that hurt their bodies.

Here are some basic go-to examples:

  • Baked tortilla chips instead of fried tortilla chips
  • Frozen fruit bars (avoid sugary ones) instead of ice cream bars
  • Grilled chicken nuggets instead of breaded or fried nuggets
  • Fruit and veggie slices instead of potato chips or cookies

Also consider putting a twist on their favorite dishes, keeping it almost the same while substituting the unhealthier part (whole-wheat pasta, egg whites, fresh fruit vs. canned fruit, extra-lean beef, fat-free salad dressing, etc.).

3. Discuss the Benefits of Physical Activity—Make it Fun

Give your kids the information they need to be motivated. Share with how activity and healthy diet can help them build bone strength, lower their blood pressure, stress, and anxiety, and help boost their self-esteem. Give them goals or role models to look up to—a famous athlete, dancer, performer—or even yourself as their parent! Try setting up goals and rewards for them such as sticking to their new diet means they can pick the next fun activity you do, whether it be going to the swimming pool, picking their favorite park, or even going big and spending the day at a local theme park (think about all the walking you’ll get in!).

4. Work with Kids to Keep Them Active

It isn’t enough to just talk about being physically active. This is one area you have to help children talk the talk and walk the walk. Reduce the amount of sedentary time and add in at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day or almost every day of the week. Some examples include a brisk walk, a game of tag, soccer or basketball, swimming, or even dance class. By cutting out “screen” time, you can help your children get back on their feet and outside.

A healthy mindset for your child can start with you. Get out, be active, and eat smart. Keep it simple!

This article contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. The information is not intended to replace the advice or diagnosis of a physician. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.