Over the past two decades the number of children with obesity has continued to rise. Children with obesity are at a significantly higher risk for chronic diseases earlier on in life.
In fact, Type 2 Diabetes, once only known to as an adult onset disease, is now on the rise in overweight or obese children. Additionally, childhood obesity doesn’t just impact physical health. It also has lasting effects on self-esteem, self-image and overall mental health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measure obesity based upon body mass index (BMI). Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex.
Due to the trend of increasing rates of obesity in children, it is important to know the steps that can be taken to prevent this serious health threat in children today. Early childhood is the best time for obesity prevention.
The main cause of childhood obesity is eating too much of the wrong foods and not enough physical activity.
Below is a list of 5 essential steps to prevent obesity in children:
- Ensure they’re eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet
- Focus on a diet rich in organic, fresh vegetables along with grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish. Incorporate healthy fats and nuts and seeds along with fresh fruit in season. The Paleo diet is a great diet to implement in children at a young age. It gets them started on the right pattern of eating. It teaches children to fill up on carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits and enjoy highly nutrient dense foods that prevent disease. It helps to limit their exposure to processed foods at young age, as well. Avoid any foods high in trans fats. Avoid foods high in sodium and low in nutrients including any processed foods or fast food. Avoid high-sugar foods or beverages such as fruit juices, soda, candy, and any processed sweets. Additionally, ensure the diet is full of organic and non-GMO foods to prevent further toxin exposure and health complications later in life.
- Promote healthy eating habits while young
- Parents are responsible for modeling healthy eating behaviors at home. This means sitting down with children at meals to eat at the dinner table. This includes teaching children mindful eating habits. Mindful eating means dinner is for eating your meal without any distractions such as watching TV or playing video games. Teaching children to say good things about food at mealtime is also a helpful habit. Additionally, healthy eating habits include getting children excited about being in the kitchen and preparing meals. Make meal prep a fun family activity! Provide small, age-appropriate portion sizes. Lastly, encourage children to enjoy meals.
- Swap healthy beverages with the sugary ones
- Don’t give children any sugar sweetened beverages. This is one of the most important habits to instill in children from a young age, especially today where these beverages run rampant. The CDC reports that between 2011-2014, 6 in 10 youth drank sugar sweetened beverages daily. Learn to make healthy swaps for beverages. If children want fruit juice, give them whole fruit instead or make your own organic juice using a juicer at home. Serve children water, fruit-infused water, sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea or homemade fruit or vegetable juice. This will keep them healthy and teach them appropriate beverages for health and wellness.
- Encourage your kids to be active
- Physical activity is key to health and overall weight management. Regular physical activity is also an imperative habit to instill in children at a young age. Anyone can gain weight if they are not active. Physical activity burns calories and aids in normal weight management. Use the word “activity” to replace “exercise” to keep kids entertained and excited about movement. Focus on more family activities. Get children to try a new sport they’re interested in. Or do simple activities with kids such as raking up leaves, playing hopscotch or walking to get the mail. Anything to keep kids moving and getting more steps in each day is essential to the prevention of obesity.
- Help children avoid sedentary time by limiting screen time
- It is important to encourage children to avoid being sedentary due to screen time. Sedentary activities include watching TV, playing video games or using the computer too often. These childhood habits lead to sedentary habits later in life. Limit the amount of time your children can have screen time. Encourage more interactive activities to replace the sedentary ones such as playing outside, walking the dog, playing a family game or helping cook a healthy meal.