Obesity is one of the primary contributors to health problems in the United States today.
According to the CDC , roughly 42% of the American adult population is obese, with obesity-related health conditions (like Type 2 Diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer) being among the leading causes of death—preventable premature death!
It’s absolutely vital that we take steps to combat obesity in little ways every day. If you are a parent, it’s even more important that you are aware that obesity often begins early in life, and that if you’re not careful, your children can become obese—and possibly stay obese for the rest of their lives!
In 2016, the World Health Organization estimated that roughly 41 million children under the age of 5 were either obese or overweight . Let that sink in for a moment. 41 MILLION children under the age of 5. That’s pretty terrifying!
Obesity, once established, is incredibly difficult to reverse. Many children remain obese as they grow into teenagers and adults, and they end up fighting obesity for decades. Not only is obesity incredibly persistent, but it’s a primary contributor to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. Children who are obese at a young age are at a significantly higher risk of suffering from serious health problems down the road.
It’s estimated  that roughly 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are obese—a number that has risen by more than 50% in just the last few years.
But what causes childhood obesity? How do children born healthy wind up become obese?
Here are the main contributing factors to childhood obesity:
Unhealthy eating patterns – This typically involves a) eating too many calories overall, and b) eating too many low-quality, low-nutrient calories—or, as it’s better known, junk food. Food that is high in empty carbohydrates, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and added fats are the main threat your children face. Sadly, it’s the food they are most likely to want to eat.
Insufficient activity – Children are spending more time indoors (playing video and computer games or surfing the internet) and less time engaged in physical activity. This lack of activity means their bodies burn fewer calories. Pair that with an increased caloric intake (especially of junk food), and the combination leads to obesity.
Genetics (family history of obesity) and lifestyle (high-stress levels, lack of sleep, etc.) can also contribute to childhood obesity, but it’s the two listed above that are the most prominent factors behind the problem.
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You may be asking yourself, “What can I do about this problem? How can I help my child be healthy and lose weight?”
The truth is that childhood obesity is much harder to assess than adult obesity. Children’s bodies are constantly changing and growing, so what looks like obesity one day could simply be their body preparing to grow. Parents need to be aware that the perception of obesity or overweight isn’t the only indicative factor. Only healthcare professionals are truly the only ones capable of making an accurate assessment.
As parents, the best thing you can do is help to change your child’s lifestyle and eating habits so that they are “healthy”. Rather than focusing on the negative (the obesity), your focus should be on helping them form positive patterns that will manage their weight and keep them healthy for the rest of their lives. Remember, your child has a lot more growing to do, so if you can teach them to take care of their health at a young age, you can prepare them for a longer, healthier life.
Here’s what you can do:
Change your family’s eating habits. Don’t just change the child’s eating, but change the whole family’s. This will prevent the child from feeling singled out, and can actually have a positive effect on all of your children, as well as you parents. Making a conscious effort to eat healthier benefits everyone and instills in your children the importance of good nutrition from a young age.
Eliminate junk food. Easily accessible sodas, cookies, candies, cakes, and treats are a huge contributing factor behind childhood obesity. Kids can just walk into your pantry or open the cupboard and grab something to snack on. TERRIBLE for their health! Eliminate all junk food from your home, until there is nothing unhealthy your child can eat. Then, anytime you/they want a snack or treat, you can work together to cook/bake/prepare it from raw ingredients. Not only will this help them learn basic life skills, but it will make them more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies.
Encourage physical activity. Help your child to get at least an hour of moderate physical activity most of the days of the week. If your child isn’t getting that at school, then it’s up to you to get out of the house and get that exercise with them. Remember that YOU are their role model, so you need to demonstrate the right behavior. Spend time playing with them, taking them running or cycling or engaging in outdoor sports. If they’re old enough, take them to the gym and work out with them. The more physical activity they get, the better.
Reduce screen time. Encourage your kids to spend less time in front of the TV or computer screen or on their devices. Screen time leads to lethargy and apathy, which you want to combat at a young age. If they’re “bored”, they’re more likely to engage in some sort of physical activity—or, at the very least, play with each other.
Building healthy life habits takes a lot of hard work and commitment—especially on your part. You don’t have to go overboard and become excessively strict with what you allow in your home, but you should all strive together to make your home a place where you eat and live healthy. That will go a long way toward combatting childhood obesity!
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