Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States. Since the 1970s, the number of children considered obese has tripled. Nearly one out of every five children between 6 and 19 years of age is obese. There could be some reasons for this change — diet, lack of activity or the growth of technology could all be to blame. What can parents and teachers do to help fight childhood obesity?
1. Start Meal Planning
We live in a world of conveniences. You can pick up a full meal — loaded with sodium and trans fats, but a meal — without ever leaving your car. You can purchase full dinners that don’t need any preparation at all for the same price as the ingredients. Unfortunately, most of these foods aren’t as good for you as they claim to be, and this convenience can contribute to obesity in both children and adults. That’s where meal planning comes in. Take the time each week to plan healthy meals you can cook quickly, even on your busiest nights. Preparing dinners ahead of time that you can freeze and throw in the oven makes this step even more manageable. You can also take your favorite foods and turn them into healthy options — pizza becomes a lot better for you when you switch the dough crust for one made of riced cauliflower.
2. Ditch the Soda
Sodas, juices and other flavored drinks are empty calories — they’re often packed full of sugars and sodium, without any nutritional benefits. When you’re drinking soda, you aren’t drinking enough water. While these drinks do contain water, the added sodium dehydrates you. Remove soda from your home and your diet. You can still enjoy the occasional Coke when you head out to dinner with the family, but for meals at home, you should skip the sugary substitutes and drink water instead. This will ensure you are staying hydrated while preventing you from adding a ton of sugary beverages to your diet. We’re explicitly telling you to quit drinking soda because our children mimic what we do. If we ask them to stop drinking soda while we’re still chugging our favorite carbonated beverage, they’re not going to do what we say. They’re going to do what we do, and that leads to childhood obesity.
The best thing you can do to reduce childhood obesity is to foster play. Modern children don’t spend enough time out on the playground. Physicians recommend that children get between 30 and 60 minutes of activity a day, which is lacking when we’re spending more of our time on video game consoles or computers than outside. Take your kids to the playground. In addition to encouraging physical activity, playing with the neighborhood kids promotes the development of social skills and makes exercise fun. Kids don’t like to exercise when they’re being told what to do and how to do it, but if you set them loose on a playground, they’ll run until they tire themselves out. They’ll get their daily activity and more without even knowing it.
4. Reduce Your Screentime
Children are spending more time in front of screens than ever. From infancy to age 8, our little ones are spending more than two hours in front of a screen every single day. The more time we spend with our noses in our phones or tablets, the less time we get to spend outdoors. Kids need to play if we ever hope to reduce childhood obesity. This is another step you’ll have to take yourself as well. Kids want to do what their parents are doing, so if you’re staring at your phone or tablet or Kindle, they’ll want to do the same and will get angry if they’re not allowed to be just like mommy and daddy. Put the phone away and play with your kids. You might be surprised how much fun you have.
5. Snack Smart
Having snacks during the day is just as important as eating healthy meals, but only if you’re smart about it. Things like fruit, vegetables, whole-wheat crackers and cheese can help keep your metabolism burning throughout the day. Unfortunately, most of our snacks are unhealthy — chips, candy bars and Twinkies are at every grocery store checkout. Take the time to prepare healthy snacks for your little ones, and yourself. Pay close attention to portion sizes as well — things like fruits and crackers are only healthy if you don’t eat the whole container in one sitting.
Fighting Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity is a bigger problem than most people want to believe, and it’s getting worse by the year. It’s up to parents and teachers to start making better decisions, in both food and activity, to help the next generation become healthier than the one before it. Make little changes to begin with, and start incorporating more healthy choices into your lifestyle.