Parents need to put in effort to prevent childhood obesity

Recent statistics show that, during the past 30 years, the rate of obesity in the United States has more than doubled for preschoolers and adolescents, and has more than tripled for children ages 6 to 11.

Pretty frightening numbers aren’t they?

Growing up in the 1970s, it was unusual to have more than one or two obese or overweight children in your entire school. This was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing that more children were of appropriate body weight but a curse for those few who were often teased. Childhood obesity is on the verge of a national crisis. So who or what is to blame?

For most children, the problem is twofold: lack of exercise and poor eating. We live in an age of convenience. Kids, even the tiniest ones, are glued not only to televisions but to smartphones. My 2-year-old great-nephew asks to play on my phone the minute he walks into the house. The average American child spends several hours a day on these activities and very little time performing physical activity.

Obesity is really a simple matter of calories in and calories burned. If a child or an adult is eating too much and moving too little, they will gain weight. Back when I was young we had no computer, no cell phone, three television channels, one video game — Pong — that you had to play at the bowling alley, and we were our father’s remote. It was not unusual for my brothers and I to go outside in the morning and not come home until dusk when my dad yelled off the porch, “Jim, Kathy, Michael, dinner!”

For modern-day parents, it is a whole new ball game. They spend their time confiscating cell phones and disconnecting video games to get their kids up and moving. Here are a few helpful tips to keep your kids in a healthy weight range:

— Eat dinner as a family at the table: The worst place for kids and grownups to eat and overeat is in front of the television. Sit down at mealtimes so that you can talk, catch up on the day and eat a nutritious meal. Also make the dinner table a no-cell phone zone.

— Slow down on the fast food: Fast food eating is also a major contributor to childhood obesity. There are fast food restaurants on every corner. Try and limit the fast food lunches and dinners to once or twice a month as a special treat. If your busy schedule makes eating at home impossible, then make better selections of places and meals. Most fast food restaurants have kid friendly, healthy alternatives including fresh fruit, yogurt, applesauce and apples with dip. It is OK to skip the fries.

— Get your kids moving: There are a ton of physical activity options available. The recreation department offers sports activities, fall, winter, spring and summer. There are fitness centers, gymnastics and dance studios as well. If your child is not into organized sports, get them out in the yard riding a bike, walking the dog or just playing.

— No snacking in front of the TV: All of us tend to overeat when mindlessly shoveling snacks while watching TV. Restrict snacking to the kitchen — it will limit the calories and also eliminate what scary old food items you find stuffed down in the couch cushions.

— Set the example: There is no better way to influence your child’s activity and eating habits than to be a good role model. If they see you come home from work and prop yourself in front of the TV, or bury your head in the cell phone with a Coke and a bag of chips, what is that telling them? Set the example by eating well and exercising and they will follow your lead.

— Don’t be too militant: If you become the food Nazi, your child will rebel. Don’t ban all fun snacks and foods from the house or they will seek it other places. Tried that once with the Hansen girls. Had nothing fun and everything healthy in the house for snacks and guess what? Every chance they got, they raided the cupboards at their friends’ homes. Moderation is the key to success.

If you try all of these tips and still have problems with your child struggling with weight, there are other alternatives. Seek the advice of your pediatrician, a dietitian or fitness professional. Obesity in children not only leads to ridicule, but to the increased chance for serious health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. As a parent, besides driving them nuts, it is our job to make sure that our kids grow up healthy and happy.

Kathy Hansen has more than 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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