Many know by now that obesity unfortunately has become an epidemic. All too frequently it starts in childhood. Overweight and obese children are more likely to become overweight and obese adults.
More and more parents, and even children, are aware of both the obvious and hidden dangers of obesity. The more quickly apparent complications in children are sleep problems and lack of oxygen at night (sleep apnea), poor self-image and bullying, difficulties in controlling asthma symptoms, and exercise intolerance. In the future, though sometimes not so distant, obese individuals face a much greater risk of developing multiple medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, bone and joint diseases, just to name a few.
Of course, balancing consumption and spending of calories helps maintain healthy weight. But, it is so much easier said than done! Busy work schedules of many parents, safety concerns about allowing kids to play actively outside without adequate supervision, and high cost of many extracurricular physical activities are known barriers to exercise. Also, the same busy schedules, often relatively pricey healthy food choices, and extra time that is often required to prepare a healthier meal, can all lead parents to settle for poorer quality (high calorie, high fat) food.
To overcome these barriers, we suggest a number of practical and easy-to-follow steps that can be taken toward healthier eating habits and healthier weight.
1. Set the table in order to eat and drink less by:
- Using smaller plates
- Using thinner taller glasses instead of shorter and wider ones
- Clearing serving bowls off the table to avoid second helpings
- Offering a glass of water before each meal
2. Rearrange your kitchen in order to eat less by:
- Not having the table in front of the TV
- Hiding boxes of candy (and all other food that you would snack on) from your sight and making it harder to reach
- Refraining from buying food in large packages and storing it at home in large quantities
3. Eat slowly
- Use chopsticks or small forks
- Chew 10 times before swallowing
- Try to plan a family dinner together, where you can eat and talk about your day
(Please refer to the book by Brian Wansink, PhD “Mindless Eating” to read more about the ideas above)
Also, below are some general suggestions about food choices that help maintain healthy weight
- Decrease carbohydrates (rice, breads, potatoes, pasta); choose whole wheat vs. white bread, brown vs. white rice.
- Increase vegetables, especially raw.
- Keep in mind that fruits contain much more sugar compared to vegetables.
- Discontinue or decrease significantly all juices (even 100% juice without added sugar) and soft drinks.
- Use various nut butters in your menu, spreading them on a slice of apple, a carrot, or a celery stick. This would be an excellent easy-to-make variation of the protein part of the meal.
- Drink water before each meal in order to eat less food.
- Eat at home more and decrease "on the go" eating and fast food.
- Plan out your meals in advance to decrease impulse eating.
Of course, exercise, done regularly, will complement healthy eating in helping an individual maintain optimal weight. The more exercise the better, but there are general recommendations on the amount and type of good quality exercise. A typical child will benefit from at least 60 minutes a day of physical activity. Find out all the details
It is never too early to ask yourself and your doctor about the healthy weight goal for your child. The sooner you start taking steps to decrease their excess weight, the easier it is to succeed. Taking these steps together as a family is most beneficial.
Please, refer to these useful internet resources below for more guidance and ideas about portion size, healthy foods and recipes, and exercise options:
- CDC Fruits & Veggies—More Matters
- My Plate
- Nemours KidsHealth website for parents
- NHLBI We Can! (nutrition and exercise tips)