Whilst tracking the increase and causes of childhood obesity on a worldwide scale is somewhat problematic (due to different definitions and variables of determining weight) statistics certainly suggest that over the last ten years childhood obesity has been on the rise. The World Health Organisation indicate that in 2010, more than 40 million under-fives across the world were overweight with the United States having the highest increase in childhood obesity statistics. The main culprits for these alarming statistics are thought to be social issues, lack of exercise and bad diet although some of the contributing factors are presently unclear.
It is clear, however, that childhood obesity can have lifelong consequences. A study reported in Time Magazine indicates that the higher the body mass index (BMI)of a 7-13 year old, the higher their chance of developing heart disease in adulthood will be. Overweight and obese children also have an increased risk of developing diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, some cancers and breathing difficulties alongside multiple social/physiological issues such as low self esteem and anxiety. Economical research also suggests that obesity is making us all poorer – in the United States, 21% of all health care costs are related to obesity which in turn also bumps up family health insurance.
For a variety of reasons then, it is important for parents and caregivers to recognise the associations of childhood obesity and try to steer their children’s lifestyle in a way that will avoid them. Here are some examples of the best ways to do that.
Encourage Outdoor Play
One of the reasons that childhood obesity is on the rise is thought to be down to the changes in how children play. Whereas outdoor play was once prevalent, new technologies and environmental/social changes mean that children are now more likely to play indoors. Perhaps parents don’t have the time/money to send their children to organised, outdoor play sessions and feel concerned about the safety issues of letting them roam around neighbourhoods due to ever increasing crime rates. But in a 2005 study carried out by Burdette and Whitaker, it is argued that outdoor play is more important for childhood physical, social and cognitive development as structured exercise and physical activity. Therefore, children should be encouraged to play outdoors with friends even if that has to be in a garden or supervised in a public play area.
As parents and caregivers, you are responsible for making the choices about what your family eats. As your child gets older and goes to school you will not have sole control about their dietary choices but it is still important to fill your home with healthy, nutritious food. Simply not buying unhealthy food eliminates the temptation and desire your child will have to eat it. Educate children from a young age about the positives of healthy food and the negatives of junk food.
Make food fun by including them in food shopping and cooking meals so that they can develop an interest and understanding about food groups and nutrition. Then, as they grow, they will be able to make well informed decisions about what they choose to put in their body. You don’t have to completely rule out sweet treats and the occasional burger – in fact research proves that eliminating ‘naughty foods’ altogether will backfire once your child is outside of the home environment. But do ensure that junk food is used as an occasional treat, not a regular, expected part of their diet.
Make Exercise Fun
When adults think of exercise, they tend to picture a gruelling session in the gym. But for kids, working out can be so much fun that they don’t even realise they’re doing it. Swimming, roller skating, kite flying, archery, sports, bike riding and trampolining are all fun ways to burn calories, boost metabolism, strengthen muscles and encourage healthy growth and development. Try to enlist the whole family for one day of fun exercise or ‘outdoor activity’ a week.
TVs, computers and game consoles are all part of 21st century life and something things that most parents will probably struggle to eradicate completely from their child’s life. But you should remember that technology and media use has had a very detrimental effect on childhood obesity statistics over a number of years. As early as 1985 studies into the correlation between the two were being carried out and as technology has advanced over the years, sadly so has obesity in kids.
Because of this, it would be prudent to set limits on the amount of time that your children spend in front of the TV or on computers. Breaking up their periods of ‘TV time’ with outdoor activities or chores will allow them to spend at least a portion of their time partaking in healthier things. On rainy days why not try and incorporate fitness with new technology? There are several dance, sport and exercise based interactive games that the whole family can enjoy as part of ‘fun exercise’.
Lead by Example
Young children in particular mimic the behaviour of their parents and caregivers so it is important that you lead a healthy lifestyle in order to be a great role model for your children. In fact, in a study reported in Health Day results indicated that out of a focus group of parents who tried losing weight themselves, changed the eating environments in their homes and actively encouraged exercise, the children who lost the most weight were those whose parents took steps to lose weight themselves.