Our country has seen a growing epidemic of obesity over the past 30 years. In the 1960’s, only 5% of children were considered overweight.
In 2000, that percentage grew to 15% and continues to increase. Children have no desire to be overweight so what’s happening?
Research has shown that one fourth of children watch 4 or more hours of TV per day. A child who has 0-2 hours of “screen time” (TV, Computer, Video Game) has a 10% chance of being overweight as opposed to a child who has 4-5 hours per day and a 30% chance of obesity. TV watching also exposes the kids to many “junk food” commercials in addition to the lack of exercise and frequent snacking that usually accompanies TV viewing. Children need at least 30 – 60 minutes of vigorous exercise (activity that makes them sweat) every day.
We are also a fast food society. Our lifestyles often necessitate meals that are quick and easy. However, the studies have shown that fast food portions are larger than what is usually served at home and the fat content and caloric density are significantly higher. Ask your kids what their favorite foods are and you will likely hear pizza, mac and cheese, french fries, chicken strips, hot dogs, burgers, ice cream – What happened to fruits and veggies? Studies have also shown that regular meals at home as a family resulted in decreased intake of soda and fried foods and an increase in fruits and vegetables. Plus, eating as a family allows greater family interaction and the opportunity to model good eating habits for your kids.
Another major factor is the vast consumption of soft drinks, juice and sport drinks by many of our children. These beverages are loaded with sugar and a recent study showed that 30% of teen girls and 50% of teen boys drank more than 3 sodas a day on a regular basis. As can be expected with this kind of intake, water and low fat milk consumption take a major decline.
As parents, we have to take responsibility for our children’s weight problems. There are no easy solutions – it takes work and persistence. Consult with your pediatrician – height, weight and BMI (body mass index) should be measured on every school age child as part of their yearly physical exams. Establishing good eating habits and making time for regular exercise can be accomplished. Here are a few key ideas – don’t try to do all at once. Start with one and incorporate into your family routine. Then add another and another…
1. Eat meals as a family 5-7 nights a week – eat out only once
2. Eat healthy snacks (read the labels and go for: 2 grams of fiber per serving size)
3. Downsize the portions
4. Go for “5 a day” – 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables every day
5. Limit sodas, juice and sport drinks ( 4-6 oz of juice/day, one soda a week)
6. Limit screen time to 2 hours/day and let the kids earn additional screen time by exercising more than 30 minutes per day
7. Join a team – soccer, basketball, anything to get them active
8. Be a good role model!