By: Cynthia Skelly, M.D.
In recent years, childhood obesity has become a major public health problem that affects nearly 25 percent of American children. Obesity during childhood creates a greater risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes later in life. The good news is that childhood obesity can be managed and even prevented with the help of parents.
Childhood obesity has been linked to non-physical activities such as watching television, sitting at the computer, the elimination of physical education classes in some schools, and poor eating habits. For example, the average child spends 24 hours each week watching television. Additionally, weight gain during childhood can be attributed to the behavior of other family members. If parents and sibling are inactive and eat an unhealthy diet, it’s more likely that the child will follow that pattern.
Parents can help protect children from excessive weight gain in numerous ways. Some suggestions include:
- Limit TV time. Parents should restrict the amount of time children spend participating in these non-physical activities such as watching TV, sitting at the computer or playing video games.
- Provide a well-balanced diet. Avoid serving prepackaged foods and limit the amount of high calorie items kept in the home.
- Respect your child’s appetite. Don’t make children clean their plate if they are full. It’s important that they learn to stop eating when they feel full.
- Encourage healthy choices. Guide your children’s food choices instead of forcing them to eat certain foods. A variety of healthy options should be available for children to choose. Offer healthy snacks such as cut fruits and vegetables.
- Do not use food as a reward. Desserts, candy and other sweets should not be used as an incentive or reward for children. The completion of meals does not mean the child should have dessert.
- Promote physical activity. Take time to enjoy physical activities as a family. Play games outside or go for a walk with your kids instead of watching TV. This can make a big difference in your child’s health. Additionally, parents should encourage their kids to get involved in physical activities like soccer, ballet or even helping with household chores, such as raking the yard.
To determine if your child is overweight, visit your child’s physician. If your child is overweight, your physician can develop a plan to help your child lose weight. It’s important that parents help their children with their weight loss plan.
Parental support is essential to keeping your child healthy. With a little bit of time and attention, the obesity epidemic can be controlled and our nation’s children can look forward to happy and healthy lives.