The Rising Obesity Epidemic in Children and How To Fight Back

The Rising Obesity Epidemic in Children and How To Fight Back

Since 1980, obesity has nearly doubled worldwide. The sedentary lifestyle combined with excessive eating habits have brought us to where we are today. Where are we today, you may ask? Approximately 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, are overweight. And of that 1.9 billion, over 600 million are obese. What are we teaching our children when we eat unhealthy foods excessively and plop in front of the television for hours? We’re teaching them that their health isn’t important.

Modeling healthy activity and eating habits is difficult when so many of today’s adults are struggling to live out a balanced lifestyle themselves. We need to teach our children and youth the importance of exercise and healthy eating, and therefore lower the amount of children that are overweight or obese, which was 42 million in 2013. However, the epidemic has increasingly gotten worse over the past decades. Since 1970, the rate at which children and adolescents were obese or overweight has tripled.

What To Teach Your Children

It’s important to start teaching them young. This is when they are most susceptible to learning habits and adopting them as their own. Children often mimic their parents or role model’s behaviors. Therefore, however you lead — whether by good or bad example, they will follow in your footsteps.

To ensure a healthy lifestyle, initiated in their earlier years, it’s important you teach them the basics by living out your values in your physical activity and meal times. There are three key basics that you must educate them on.

 Enjoying Healthy Foods

Encouraging the consumption of healthy foods is vital for your children’s health and growth. Whole grains, fruits and veggies and healthy proteins should be apart of your children’s everyday diet. But you don’t want to force it on them. Instead, introduce them to different healthy foods and help “guide” them to make their own decisions.

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Eating healthy foods is only part of the equation to healthy eating. Portion control is a key. Studies show when you serve larger portions, children tend to eat more without realizing it. Stick to smaller portions and if a child wants seconds, try having them wait at least 10 minutes to see if they’re actually still hungry.

Cutting sugary drinks out of their diet can be beneficial as well. Sugary drinks are strongly correlated with weight gain. According to California Center for Public Health Advocacy, “for each additional sugary drink a child consumes per day, his or her risk of obesity increases by an astonishing 60 percent.” Eliminating or decreasing the amount of sugary drinks consumed can lower fat and body weight gained in children.

It always seems difficult to teach our children healthy ways when the media is advertising unhealthy and more appealing options. But it’s important to help them look past these temptations and always reach for the apple instead of the bag of chips. Remember, a healthy diet is 80% of the battle.

child cant choose between healthy and unhealthy

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Importance of Physical Activity

The other 20% to leading a healthy lifestyle is remaining active. Consistent physical activity in children is recommended for healthy bones and muscles, weight control, and increased strength and endurance. Branding this into your children’s brains while they’re young helps to ensure healthy habits and an active lifestyle. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that young people participate in at least 60 minutes of activity each day. But roughly one quarter of U.S. children meet this recommendation. According to the 2014 United States Report Card On Physical Activity For Children and Youth, 24.8% of youth reported obtaining 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity everyday.

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The sedentary lifestyle is taking over. Overall, youth are estimated to be sedentary 7.1 hours each day. Whether it be at school or in front of the television at home, this number needs to decrease. Encourage them to get outside and ride their bikes or go to the park; anything that gets them up and moving.

children getting active and swinging at park

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Television and Other Media in Moderation

The amount of television watched by children has increased by 12% over nine years and is one of the main factors to the sedentary lifestyle. It’s sad to realize how large of a role television plays in children’s everyday lives. They watch TV or play video games in their rooms, during meals and even on their cell phones. The accessibility has only increased as technology has improved over the years, which is definitely contributing to the problem.

On average post-millennial children are viewing around 35 hours of television a week. This is almost as much time as you spend at work each week. Excessive television watching can lead to behavior problems, poor grades, sleep problems and even obesity. Encouraging and rewarding moderate television viewing can be good for your children’s health. The American Academy of pediatrics suggests that children are only in front of a screen between 1 and 2 hours each day. Instead of sitting inside in front of a screen offer the option of exergames or Wii Just Dance. There are so many popular active video games out there that can help to keep your kids active, while letting them think they’re just playing their favorite video game.

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children eating and sitting on couch

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Childhood obesity is associated with a variety of consequences. It causes physiological, psychological and social problems. One of the most terrifying consequence is that it’s more likely for overweight or obese children to be overweight or obese as an adult. That’s why it’s so important to start young. Failed attempts at a healthy lifestyle can lead to asthma, diabetes, heart failure, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and those are just a few of many.

Our children are the future of this world. We are already setting a terrible example with our high obesity and overweight rates. At this rate this generation of children will be the first to live shorter lives than their parents. Let’s change this. Lead by example, teach your children healthy eating and exercise, and most importantly, make sure that if you start seeing signs of obesity and take action, together.

What actions have you taken to instill more physical activity and healthy eating habits in your children and families? Share in the comments below.

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