If one of more of your children is overweight or obese, you’re in good company. Here are some stats to swallow:
- In the United States, approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 are obese. In Israel, about 13% are either overweight or obese.
- Since 1980, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled.
- Today, about 1 in 3 American kids and teens is overweight or obese – nearly triple the rate since 1963.
Childhood obesity is now the #1 health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking.
With good reason, it seems.
Among children today, obesity is causing a broad range of health problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood. These include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels.
This past May, Israeli researchers were able to establish a link between childhood obesity and cancer. Those who are obese have a 42% greater likelihood of developing cancer.
There are also psychological effects: Obese children are more prone to low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. Parents can be frustrated and often feel helpless.
The pressing question is: What changes can you can implement that will make a lasting difference and help ensure your children’s future health?
One thing that will surely fail with children and adolescents is trying to force them to change habits. Children are not home most of the day, and whether it is a class party, a Chanukah celebration or spending time at friend’s home, most of what they eat is not under your control. They will find a way to find eat the food they want and, if it’s been restricted, they may even use it as a form of rebellion.
Instead, remember two basic rules:
1) Arrange the environment in the home for success, and
2) set a proper example.
Don’t try to control things that you can’t. But absolutely DO control what is available in your household.
Make healthy foods easily accessible. When your children come home from school, leave cut vegetable sticks and fruits out on the table. Initially, they will continue straight to the pantry to grab a bag of chips or a candy bar. But slowly, over time, they will begin trying the healthy items also. It’s there. It’s convenient. And they may even decide that they prefer it.
Introduce some whole grain products into meals. Mix some whole grain pasta into the white flour pasta to get started. Some brown rice into white. Eventually, make the switch to 100% whole grain.
Serve fresh salads, fruit and cooked vegetables at meals. Vegetables can be delicious. When they’re presented as an option alongside other staple meal foods, they may be less threatening. And even if you have cakes and cookies for dessert, try to provide a fresh fruit choice as well.
Keep a limited number of unhealthy snacks in your home. Too much temptation makes it hard for even the best eater to stay on track. Make one unhealthy treat a day the limit. This way, they can still eat what they want, but in limited amounts.
What applies to adults as far as healthy eating goes applies to children as well. It is important to introduce lifestyle changes instead of fad diets for your overweight children.¹ You may want them to see quick results as much as you want for yourself, but the Cabbage Diet is not the way to go.
In that vein, here is advice not just for weight loss, but for healthy living as well: Don’t expect your child to do things that you aren’t doing yourself.
If you and your spouse are overweight, it is time to take control of your lives so your children will learn that positive behavior from you. Many parents come into our offices with their adolescents and expect them to learn a healthy lifestyle in some type of vacuum. You are your children’s most visible and important role model. Make this a family project and you are much more likely to see favorable results.
Check out My Child is Fat, Part II: Dealing With an Overweight Child to learn about age-specific activity plans that will benefit not only your child, but your whole family in a fun, educational way.
¹Drs. Jennifer L. Miller and Janet H. Silverstein in a 2007 paper on Childhood Obesity.
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. certified personal trainer and a lifestyle fitness coach with over 17 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! He can be reached at (U.S. Line) 516-568-5027, 02-651-8502 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.