Obesity in youth

In North America, children are becoming obese or overweight in growing numbers and by earlier ages.  The following guidelines will suggest how you can encourage your child to develop healthy eating habits to help prevent obesity down the road.

Obesity in youth

Currently one child in five is overweight, according to the National Institute of Health. This epidemic is occurring in every age group and race, and in boys as well as girls.

1. Serious consequences of obesity

The consequences of this sad statistic are: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, sleeping disorders and orthopedic complications. One study found that the arteries of many American teenagers are so clogged that the kids are at increased risk for a heart attack.

Research of this kind led the American Heart Association to establish guidelines urging doctors to intervene in childhood obesity by urging parents to limit foods high in saturated fat for children over two, encourage kids to consume more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

Overweight children tend to become overweight adults. Parents must foster positive elements, such as healthy eating, positive body image and active lifestyle early in a child's life. The best approach to controlling weight in obese children and teens is serving smaller portions, reduce snacking and replace with healthier food choices, and encouraging regular, vigorous exercise.

2. Simple tactics that help

Pack your kids' lunches

That way you can ensure that they have nutritious choices such as carrot sticks and fruit. While most school cafeterias are providing more healthy offerings for students, such as wraps and salads with low-fat dressings, many still serve fat-laden fries and other fast-food staples. School vending machines are packed with processed foods that also contain unhealthy trans fats. If your kids look forward to a special treat, slip in a homemade cookie, which is healthier than packaged varieties.

Encourage good eating habits

  • Set a good example for your child to copy. Share mealtimes and eat the same healthy foods.
  • Discourage snacking on sweets and fatty foods.
  • Keep plenty of healthy foods, such as fruits, raw vegetables, low-fat crackers and yogurt, around for children to eat between meals.
  • Allow children to follow their natural appetites when deciding how much to eat.
  • Don't force children to eat more than they want.
  • Encourage children to enjoy fruits and vegetables by giving them a variety from an early age.
  • A child over three can switch from whole milk to two percent milk, and then eventually to one percent or skim milk.
  • Do ask children to help prepare meals so they can learn to enjoy cooking.
  • Don't accustom children to extra salt by adding it to food or placing the shaker on the table.
  • Don't use food or dessert as a bribe.
  • Don't make children feel guilty about eating any type of food.

Reduce screen and TV time

Several studies have documented associations between number of hours of TV watched and the rate of obesity. Moreover, heavy TV watching has been associated with higher intakes of calories, fat, sweet and salty snacks and carbonated beverages in children. This may be due to increased exposure to advertising campaigns for these foods.

Easy, healthful snacks

Do as the French do and don't snack between meals. Children should have a healthy after-school snack but it should be small and nutritious. Some suggestions include:

  • Breads and crackers with spreads such as peanut butter, low-fat cheese
  • Canned tuna or sardines
  • Lean cold cuts
  • Rice cakes and whole-grain crackers
  • Fresh fruit
  • Low sugar yogurt
  • Cut, raw vegetables (carrots, celery, tomatoes etc.) with nutritious dips
  • Plain popcorn
  • Breakfast cereals with high fibre and very low sugar
  • Water or skim milk
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