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Taking a Bite Out of Childhood Obesity

In a 1999 survey by the National Children and Youth Fitness Study, research indicated that between 12-25% of North American children are obese. This has risen almost 50% in the past 15 years. What can we do about it?

Childhood obesity is recognized when total body weight is more than 25% fat in boys and more than 32% fat in girls. With the associated health risks and issues of self-esteem that accompany childhood obesity, it is important that parents take this issue seriously.

The cause of childhood obesity has many variables. Heredity is a definite factor. Metabolic rates are initially genetically set, they can however be influenced by a myriad of contributing factors. Caloric intake and activity levels play a major role, and are the key to readjusting the body’s own natural expenditure of energy.

While it is a fact that children of obese parents are 40% more likely to be obese also, the age of the onset of obesity is also a determining factor as to whether a child will become an obese adult.

As children struggle for autonomy in the formative years, body image is often directly related to a child’s self-esteem. The age-old adage that “children can be cruel” is a life lesson known to many children categorized as obese. Helping your child develop healthy eating habits early on could influence them for a lifetime. Starting early could make the difference in your child’s outlook.

It should be a doctor that diagnoses obesity in a child. Having a baseline weight chart and a realistic plan of action is essential for implementing an individualized plan for the child. As a life style change is often indicated, the entire family needs to take an active role. Once the plan is initiated, consistency and support are the keys.

One of the biggest mistakes parents sometimes make early on, is using food as a reward. In the child’s mind an association between good and food can cause an unrealistic dependency on food as a source of comfort. On the opposite end of the spectrum, children restricted from making any of their own food choices may become more prone to obsessing about goodies that have been denied them. A balance of the two must be achieved to instill a healthy attitude towards food.

Very young children have an inborn “full” switch. Many parents of toddlers create an issue about eating where none should exist. Making a child “finish” all that is on his plate could inadvertently cause validation that the feeling of fullness should be regularly over-ridden. A mistake that should be avoided.

To assist a child with weight loss, activity levels need to be increased and this usually works best with the whole families involvement. Make activity a regular part of the child’s life through both organized activities and family fun that encourages active participation by the child. Limiting the hours that a child may watch television is often a way of reducing snacking used to alleviate boredom. Taking the child for a walk to the park or bike ride can be healthy alternatives. Totally denying the child “treats” is an other common mistake with some families. If the child feels constantly denied, the want for treats can increase in an unnatural manner.

Providing healthy and balanced meals are a given, but something as simple as sitting down as a family for the meal can help reinforce good habits by example. Offering fruits and vegetables in a kid friendly manner can make them enjoy the foods you serve. Many children will eat raw vegetables much more readily than cooked ones so offer them as a source of snacks. Limit the amount of high-caloric foods that are on hand in your kitchen. If a child knows there are cookies in the cupboard they will be less likely to ask for a banana or an apple. It also must be remembered that children should not be totally restricted from fat as it is necessary for the rapid cell growth that their bodies are undergoing during childhood.

Making the program fun and varied can assist your child’s outlook toward eating and exercise. Try to incorporate the changes in a way that your child will enjoy. This could be the time to get the rollerblades they have wanted or to enroll them in swimming lessons. Make an after dinner walk a fun routine for the entire family.

Implementing the changes in a gradual way is another option that works well for very young children. The benefits will show not only in the child’s shape but also in the added image of self they feel from the sense of accomplishment at reaching their goals. You may even lose weight, too!

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