Obesity among children has become an epidemic. So much so that our first lady, Michelle Obama made it a priority initiative. Over the last 30 years, the number of overweight or obese children has tripled. Currently, 1 out of 3 children are overweight or obese. For AA and Hispanic children, that number is worse at almost 40 percent. What does this mean for our children: early onset of diabetes, heart disease, joint problems and even psychological affects due to bullying and poor self esteem? The good news is that childhood obesity is preventable and manageable. Here are some diet and lifestyle tips guaranteed to help your family maintain good health and a healthy weight!
Clean foods are real, whole foods straight from the animal, ground, or tree. On the other hand, processed foods are altered from their natural state. They are in a package with a long list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce. Choose the one with the shortest list. Some of the most heavily processed foods are microwaveable dinners, flavored noodle packs, ready-to-eat foods, deli meats and bacon-Nooo! Consider buying USDA Certified organic. This generally means that the food item is free of harmful pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, multiple food additives, and farmed in an earth-friendly way. However, be careful. Even organic foods can have excessive amounts of sugar, salt, and fat which is not nutritionally beneficial. So again, read the food label. When you have to eat on-the-go, choose places that offer fresh, whole foods, share nutritional facts and support clean eating. Some of my favorites are Jason’s Deli, Whole Foods, Chipotle and Panera Bread. Finally, the cleanest thing you can do is drink plenty of water.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is the foundation for maintaining good health and a healthy weight. Eat 5-6 servings each day from every color of the rainbow and make sure they cover at least half of your plate. Whole grains and legumes also fall into this category. To find whole grains, look for the black-and-yellow whole grain stamp on packages. Go on a cooking adventure and try new whole grains like farro, quinoa, or brown rice.
Eating lean consists of the right balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates(sugar) and a combination of the clean and green we just mentioned above. Healthy proteins include eggs, wild caught seafood, poultry, and low fat dairy. The best fats come from seeds, nuts, some fish, olive and coconut oils. Keep your carbs to a minimum and in healthier forms, such as fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grain breads and cereals. The family game plan to combat childhood obesity requires throwing out the junk foods and sweet drinks! Out of sight, out of mind. And when cooking, eliminate the deep frying and using heavy sauces. Grilling, sauteing, broiling, steaming or baking are the best ways to cook meals.
As a Team.
Teamwork is the most important element to ensure good health and prevent obesity in your family. Parents must lead by example. Parents can’t eat any and everything and expect their child not to do the same. Don’t bring home unhealthy snacks such as juices, sodas, chips, snack cakes and candy. Instead offer fresh fruits, nuts, and popcorn(not the microwaveable butter lovers) for snacks. Do your grocery shopping, cooking and eating together. This is the best time to teach and make healthy choices as a family. Then eating the right way becomes normal and not a source of tension. Children should also understand that skipping meals and overeating are unhealthy habits. So supervise when and how much they are eating.
We’ve discussed a lot about dietary measures which is the bulk of controlling weight. However, the benefits of exercise are just as important. It burns calories for sure, but it also promotes mental wellness, lowers cholesterol and blood sugar, and reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. So get moving as a team! Children should exercise every day for at least one hour. Push them out of the door to play basketball, ride their bikes or take a family hike. Encourage your kids to join a sport. Reduce sedentary habits by setting time limits on TV, electronics, and video games. Screen time should be less than 2 hours a day.
So get started today by eating clean, green, lean and working as a team! Introduce these principles at the high chair and with the first steps. And for those of us who are set in our ways, you can do it! Start by making small adjustments and soon you and your family will be on your way to better health and maintaining a healthy weight.
September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month