Childhood Obesity: A Plea to Parents Nationwide
I would Like to share little story about me as a tyke: My dad would get home from work around 5 or 6 p.m. As soon as he would step through the door, I would run and tackle him. I would then get up, run back to the kitchen, turn around, and repeat the tackling while he just sat there and took the repeated impact. My mom would be in the kitchen cooking dinner and as soon as it was finished, we would sit down and eat together. This happened countless nights. To this day, my father is still my hero and my mother is one of the few people I can rely on to stay up late with me and talk about my trials and tribulations.
My parents educated me at a young age on the importance of exercise and healthy living. They were also always there for me when I needed them. As a parent, one must have the capability to set an example for their child. This statement will never be more relevant as it is with Obesity.
Obesity is quickly becoming one of the largest health threats in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third (36%) of the nation is obese. This equates to about 72 million Americans. 72 MILLION! I can’t be the only person that finds that number horrifying. Even more alarming is that this number is only going to increase as time passes by. This is not limited to adults either. Childhood obesity is steadily rising and posing more of a threat now than ever before. Between the ages of 2-19, 17% or 12.5 million children and adolescents are obese.
Left unaddressed, obesity can lead to a host of different life threatening diseases (Diabetes, Heart Disease, Hypertension). Obesity can also lead to lifestyle problems such as bullying and difficulty breathing when performing daily tasks i.e walking. I am not a doctor nor am I a medical professional, so I cannot tell you how much insulin you should take at which time for your diabetes, but what I can do as a fitness professional, is provide you with strategies to combat obesity through a healthy lifestyle.
I bring this up first because it seems that there is a correlation between the incidence of childhood obesity and increased television exposure. And nowadays, what kid doesn’t have some sort of screen they can sit in front of for hours watching their favorite show? This correlation of TV and body fatness can be for a multitude of reasons but it is most likely attributed to the displacement of physical activity, and the subsequent extra calories consumed while sitting down and watching the television. The latter is a very understandable reason if one were to stop and think about it. When watching a show, movie, or sporting event, how many people actually pay attention to the number of chips they are eating rather than the television? Nobody does. The only time they may notice the snacks are all eaten is when they reach their hand in the bag to find nothing left. Fortunately for you and your children, this is an easy fix: ditch the bag and follow the instructions below:
- Limit TV exposure to 2-3 hours a day. This may not seem like much but you can break it into smaller segments so it seems like more. For example it could be 1 movie and 1 show, or 4 half hour shows.
- Leave the bag in the cupboard. This one’s a no-brainer. Rather than giving your child the entire bag of Doritos, give them a small serving in a plastic bag or a small bowl. This way they can still take it with them, but they are limited on the amount they can have.
- When their time is up, keep it that way. Kids have a tendency to put on the puppy dog face and beg for something. Unfortunately, they normally get what they want. DON’T GIVE IN. Make it known that they are only allowed these 2-3 hours and soon enough they will begin to turn the TV off on their own.
If you have a child that does not own some sort of gaming system, you’re probably a parent in the Civil War era. I cannot think of a single family I know that does not have some sort of gaming console in their house. With this type of accessibility, it makes it very easy for a child to disregard physical activity in favor of playing video games. This type of sedentary engagement is just as bad as sitting in front of the TV for hours. And please don’t try to tell me that your kid is healthy because he plays Wii tennis.
Go make him play real tennis. My parents did a great job of monitoring this when I was younger. Every day after school I had to do my homework as soon as I got home. Once my homework was finished, I was allowed a half-hour of video games. When this half hour was up, I had to do something interactive such as playing outside with my friends. It annoyed me at first that I only got 30 minutes to play a game but after a while I started to avoid the game completely and go outside to play or use my imagination. This was a very effective strategy my parents used to combat a sedentary lifestyle that I suggest you employ as well. A good plan to set in place could be:
- Limit video game exposure to 30-60 minutes a day.
- Make video games a reward, not a right.
- Only allow video game exposure on the weekends.
There are many different ways to combat sedentary video game play and the above are just a couple of examples. The strategy is completely up to you, the parent, but it must be enforced.
Cook your own meals. Cook your own meals. Cook your own meals.
If you are the one preparing the food, you know exactly what you will be consuming. Relying on processed and packaged foods as a primary food source is a huge contributor to the obesity epidemic. I understand that it is much easier, convenient, and probably cheaper to have many ready-to-eat dinners and snacks lying around the house but you know what else is a ready-to-eat food? Fruits/vegetables.
Think back to when you were younger. Would you have reached for the carrot sticks over the Cheetos? Did you enjoy a nice dessert of Greek yogurt or triple chocolate fudge brownie coronary bypass ice cream? My point is that no child in their right mind thinks about eating healthy foods and they can’t be blamed. I was the same way. I had no idea that diet had anything to do with my body composition when I was 7 years old. I just saw food as food. And I liked food. Especially the cheesy, salty kind. Children can’t know the difference in food choices unless they are informed. I do not ask that you change your entire way of living to eat better, but simple changes can be made.
- Prepare most, if not all, of your own meals.
- Use snacks and desserts as rewards or treats.
- Choose whole, nutrient rich foods when shopping.
- Keep junk food out of sight or out of the house (how can you eat it if it’s not around?)
- Teach your kids the importance of fruits and veggies
- Have a family dinner and engage in conversation. (This will distract you and your kids from how much you may be inclined to eat otherwise)
This is the most important topic in my mind. Parents, please, play with your kids.
I know that schedules can become hectic and time can be very limited, but what you have to understand is that you are your child’s biggest influence. No matter what role model a child has in their life, their parents will always have the biggest impact on them. Too many families these days keep to themselves and occupy their children with TV or games rather than occupying their own time with their children. If a child has no outside parental influence, how are they ever going to know what is good or bad for them? And here’s another benefit, if you live a stressful life or have a bad day at work, hug your kid and hold them there. It may sound miniscule but simply expressing that you care about them through a passionate hug is enough for them to know you value them. And I bet you forget about your stressors in those few seconds you are embraced.
As parents, you have more of an impact on your child’s life than you think. So I beg of you, play games with them, take them to the park, play cops and robbers or Barbies. Do not ignore them and situate them in front of the TV screen. I promise this will provide a greater quality of life for both you and your child.
I cannot tell you how to live your life nor can I be the one to change it, but I can do everything in my power to influence you. Obesity is growing faster than your children, and there can only be one winner in the fight. Children should not be outlived by their parents. So take what you now know of ways to combat obesity, and apply it to your life. I promise you will have no disappointment in trying.