Poor nutrition + inactive lifestyle = childhood obesity. That is a very simple formula. Every day there is a new story in the media about childhood obesity. Obesity is running a close second to smoking as the nation’s number one preventable killer. It is a major factor for heart disease, and increases the potential for high cholesterol, blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 8 preschoolers are obese in the United States. Obese children are 5 times more likely to become obese adults and suffer lifelong physical and mental health problems.
How did we get here? Life today is so hectic for families. Some parents are working longer hours away from home and children. Days are so filled with stress that some parents simply do not have the time or energy to apply healthy eating rules into their homes. For example, breakfast is often skipped or consists of a pop tart on the run. Family meals are rare and have been replaced with meals on the run at fast food restaurants. We live in a “super sized” world where we are led to believe that bigger is better.
Adding to the issue of nutrition there is also the concern of inactivity. Kids today spend too much time sitting still. Exercise is out and video games, laptops and TV shows are in. Recess time or free time during the school day is very limited. And sadly many of our neighborhoods are too dangerous for kids to play outside without adult supervision.
So how do we fix this? Parents are the key to changing the behaviors in their home. By changing family behavior and creating a healthy weight environment you can help your family to engage in a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips to help start your family on a pathway to a healthier lifestyle:
- Set goals and start small. New habits take a while to become routines. A simple goal might be to offer vegetables or fruits at snack time.
- Drink water at mealtimes and as a refreshing snack. If you are eating at a restaurant, you will save money and make a healthy choice by drinking water.
- Recognize triggers that will tempt you to fall back into old habits. If your child loves video games limit their screen time and encourage them to play outside.
- Surround your family with healthy foods. Keep plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains available.
- Try to eat at home more. Explore easy meals and try new, healthy recipes. Check out http://go.osu.edu/healthyrecipe for some guidelines to help you personalize your eating plans. You will find ways to combine fresh and convenience foods to make a healthy meal in a hurry.
- Take the time to read labels. There are some fruit juices and juice drinks that have as many or more grams of sugar as soda.
- Plan ahead for busy days. Cook once for two or more meals. Dust off the crock pot and make a healthy recipe. Visit this website for recipes you can make with your favorite ingredients. http://go.osu.edu/recipefinder
- Join your kids as you all move more. Take a walk or bike ride around the block or play a game of tag. Physical Activity is an important key to good health.
- Celebrate success with rewards. Make sure the rewards are healthy – what about a visiting the nearest playground or park to play with your family? Fly a kite with your kids for a fun springtime activity.
- Be flexible. If the plan is not working, make the necessary changes to reach your goals.
All of these things are something parents can control. Parents are the key to the health and lifestyle choices of their children. Being a good role model, remaining confident in your parenting choices, and feeling competent to address the resistance of family members might require being a strong parent, but with practice it can be done. Take charge of future, not only for yourself, but your children as well. They will thank you for it later.
Writer: Kathy Green, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Butler County, Miami Valley EERA.
Reviewer: Michelle Treber, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Pickaway County, Heart of Ohio EERA, firstname.lastname@example.org