Preventing Childhood Obesity, It’s A Family Affair
By Ashley Galloway MS, RD, LD/N // May 16, 2012
Health and Nutrition
We don’t need to read frightful statistics to understand the childhood weight problem in today’s American culture. Just look around. Children and adolescents are heavier today than ever before.
Environment and Choices Are The Keys
Although possessing specific genes has been identified to increase one’s risk of becoming obese, genes are certainly not the sole cause of this problem. An individual’s health behavior and their environment appear to be the most influential factors.
The increase in the availability and consumption of calorically dense, processed convenience foods, larger portion sizes at meals and snacks, a greater sugar-sweetened beverage intake, the drastic decrease in physical activity with more time spent in front of the TV and on the computer, the frequent consumption of meals away from home, more escalators and elevators, the lack of adequate and good quality sleep, and an overall unhealthy eating pattern are all factors that contribute to the current obesity epidemic.
Obese Child Leads To An Obese Adult
Overweight children are experiencing an array of health problems previously seen in only adults, such as elevated cholesterol, Type 2 Diabetes and Hypertension, to name a few. In addition, obesity during childhood can compromise optimal growth and development on several levels.
Excessive childhood weight can cause the legs to bow inward, a condition known as Blount’s Disease, and may also cause chronic joint pain. An over accumulation of fat cells may disrupt the endocrine system, sending hormones haywire and cause a whole other slew of health problems.
Once these issues are carried into adulthood, they are often times much harder to control. No matter how resilient the human body can be, there is much that can go wrong when we fail to treat our bodies properly.
Make The Right Lifestyle Choices
Fortunately, adopting a healthy diet and exercising regularly can prevent, and perhaps treat, the overweight/obese child and their accompanying health issues. A complete lifestyle change within the family appears to be the most successful method of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight. What children eat and their activity levels are significantly influenced by their surrounding environments.
If mom or dad decide to order take-out most nights of the week, or fill the house with highly processed, low nutrient foods, little Theodore has no choice but to eat what is provided. That’s only part of the equation, but it is a part that can be controlled with a little discipline.
With all the marketing and labeling tactics food companies use, it is no surprise that the consumer is often confused, and making healthy eating choices can be very difficult today. Compound that with our governmental agricultural policies that provide subsidies for the production of crops that are processed into cheap calories of fat and carbohydrates, such as high fructose corn syrup, but not for growers of specialty fresh and whole produce.
However, we make choices, and we must have the strength to choose what is healthier for our children and us because these multi-million dollar food companies are focused on selling a product and may not necessarily be looking out for our best interest. The following are some helpful tips to keep your family on the healthy train:
- Prepare more meals at home and limit dining at restaurants and fast food to once a week.
- Plan ahead! Make it a point to go grocery shopping at least once a week. You will save time and money if you dedicate a couple hours of your Saturday or Sunday to creating a simple meal plan and grocery list for the week. If this is difficult at first, seek the help of a Registered Dietitian in your area. They are your best-trusted professionals when it comes to food.
- Grocery list: choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts/seeds, low fat dairy or soy products high in calcium, eggs and lean meats.
- Avoid frozen, boxed and pre-packaged convenience foods/meals, which are laden with sodium (a major culprit in developing hypertension), unhealthy fat, sugar and a long list of ingredients, which most consumers cannot understand, let alone pronounce.
- Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages such as juice, soda, sweet tea, energy drinks, etc. These provide nothing but an immense amount of added sugar and empty calories.
- Michael Pollan, professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and author of several best-selling books on nutrition and the culture of eating, says it best, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.”
- Fill half of your plate with vegetables; evenly divide the remaining half and fill with whole grains and lean protein. Balance your plate like this at each meal.
- Sit down at the table to eat, removing all other distractions (TV, computer, etc.) to prevent mindless over-eating.
- Be active for 60 minutes each day. Find something that is fun so you don’t get bored and give up.
- Get some sleep! Adults should strive for at least 8 hours/day, while children/adolescents should get 8-10 hours.
- Give up the stress – take a 20-minute day-break to step outside, breath and focus on something positive in your life. Doing simple breathing exercises has a calming effect on the body that has shown to relieve stress. Although you may not feel it at the time, stress releases certain hormones in the body, causing physiological changes that may lead to weight gain and other cardiovascular issues.
Take The Time To Make Meals A Family Affair
Cooking is a fun way to get kids in the kitchen and expose them to healthier eating habits. Of course it’s fine to have some pizza, french fries or ice cream once in a while, but having such foods on a regular basis is what causes poor health and ultimately weight gain. We must truly attempt to shift our thinking about eating. Think not about what we cannot have or must avoid, but think about how much our body will appreciate the healthy fuel we provide with the right choices. Once we adopt the mindset that we are eating for health, healthy eating will not seem so difficult.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley Galloway is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s degree in Nutrition Education and Health Promotion from Florida State University. A Space Coast native, she now lives in Central Florida, working for Arnold Palmer Hospital’s Teen Xpress program, which offers a free nutrition, exercise and behavior change program for adolescents. Ashley takes interest in child nutrition, food production and distribution systems, and nutrition for the athlete. She is also an avid yogi, runner and cook.