Childhood obesity has become a public health concern in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 12.5 million children and adolescents are obese. This number accounts for approximately 17% of children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 in the United States. Worse, it estimates that the obesity rate among children and adolescents has tripled since 1980.
Many factors likely play a role in the trend for increasing childhood obesity in the United States. These factors include the consumption of fast food and soft drinks, lack of physical activity, and increased time spent watching television or playing video games.
While preaching better nutrition and physical activity to kids is essential, that message will likely prove far more effective if parents serve as better examples of good health.
What can parents do to lead healthy lifestyles and demonstrate those lifestyle behaviors to their children?
Teach better nutrition
Not only should kids eat healthier foods and drink healthier beverages, they should also learn to make better nutritional choices themselves. Getting rid of junk food and soft drinks can be good start for a healthier family, but children should learn how to choose healthier foods and beverages.
One idea that parents can consider for instilling proper nutrition involves taking the kids to the grocery store. Walk up and down the aisles and teach them why certain foods are more nutritious than others. Then allow them to select some of the foods and drinks themselves, perhaps for a family meal. If they can bring their own lunches to school, allow them to choose foods for their daily lunches.
By teaching nutrition at an early age, it's more likely these youth will make healthier food choices as they get older and more independent.
Limit screen time
The amount of time that kids spend staring at a screen is staggering. When parents consider how much time their children perform these activities, they need to consider how often their kids spend time watching TV, using computers, playing video games, watching movies, or looking at cell phones.
Studies show that kids between the ages of 8 and 18 watch television for an average of 4.5 hours per day. When other forms of screen time are included, this average jumps to 7.5 hours per day.
This screen time can increase the chances that a child becomes obese. Kids are likely to snack, especially on junk food, while watching TV. Also, these young kids will likely see hundreds of advertisements for unhealthy foods and beverages during the television programs. More importantly, some of that 7.5 hours could be spent engaging in regular physical activity.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit their children's total media consumption to no more than one to two hours per day. While this guideline is critical for children and adolescents to follow, parents should use it as well. It is hard to preach limits on screen time if the parents come home and watch TV too.
Engage the family in physical activity
The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that children and adolescents perform at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Parents can play a large role in helping their kids achieve these daily recommendations by engaging them in fun activities involving physical exertion. Jogging, walking, taking bike rides, hiking, and many other activities can be both fun and physically beneficial. To keep the kids enthusiastic about exercise, allowing them to bring their friends or encourage them to pick the activities.
If children see their parents exercising regularly, they are also more likely to accept it as a normal part of their own lives. They might look forward to exercising rather than perceiving it as some sort of punishment.
If parents commit to becoming healthier themselves - making better nutrition choices and performing regular physical activity - their children are much more liekly to emulate these behaviors.
What are you doing to engage your family in fitness?