Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. It is one of the major health concerns facing today’s youth as children are eating more processed foods and engaging in less physical activity. Obesity is a co-factor for a variety of diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers and will also affect children’s confidence in a social setting – which could lead to depression. The good news is that childhood obesity can be treated and prevented, and a big part of that starts at home!
Younger children will stop eating when they are full. Telling them to “clean their plate” may promote overeating habits. As children age they will eventually lose the ability to sense how full they are and will begin eating for social reasons instead of physiological ones. However, children do need to eat more often than adults because they need more nutrients to support their rapid rate of growth. The best way to provide this nutrition is with healthy snacks at set times between meals. Offer children nutrient dense snack options such as fruits, nuts, eggs, vegetable sticks, and nut butters.
Time spent in front of a TV, computer, video game, etc., is also affecting the childhood obesity epidemic. Encourage children get active through joining group sports teams and other activities, or just taking them to the park to get outside. This will help teach habits for leading a healthy lifestyle and boost their metabolism. Group sporting events can also help kids learn the importance of teamwork.
Eating healthy meals at home is the most influential factor in teaching children healthy food choices. Did you know a child is 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods, and 12% less likely to be overweight if you share family mealtime! Not to mention the benefits this time together time has to bonding as a family, and creating structure in your child’s routine. Family meals are associated with a variety of positive outcomes that improve child well-being. These include a decreased risk of substance use or delinquency, heightened personal and social well-being, and better academic performance.
An important aspect to keep in mind is that you are a role model. According to The British Psychological Society, “Children’s eating habits are based upon exposure to foods and imitation of others. If parents only expose their children to high calorie foods then they are the foods for which children will form a preference, and will want at mealtimes. If children see their parents eating high calorie foods then they will be the foods that they want to eat. This imitation and exposure learning occurs from a very early age.”
Providing healthy meals and snacks, eating meals at home, encouraging physical activity, and most importantly leading by example can go a long way in preventing childhood obesity.