Childhood obesity is killing our kids and it will bankrupt our healthcare system unless drastic measures are taken to reverse it. Part 4 of this four part series will outline some strategies to get the process started.
Knowing what to do
One of the problems with the current childhood obesity epidemic is that people simply don’t know what to do. In addition, food marketers spend millions and millions of dollars trying to entice us and our children to consume foods that only add to the problem and with today’s fast-paced lifestyles, we are eating out more often than we are eating in the home. Add to this the fact that many parents feel guilty, angry and blamed for their child’s obesity, while also being frustrated that they don’t know how to help their children.1
Reversing the childhood obesity epidemic will take a lot more than a few simple changes, but a few simple changes will start the process. You can’t change how marketers sell products, where fast-food restaurants are located, or what other people think; but you can change what happens in your own house, and that’s exactly where change has to start. Here are some proven ways to start addressing some of the factors causing childhood obesity:
Change the food environment
- Out of sight, out of mind. Remove sugary snack foods and drinks from your house. If the product contains ‘high fructose corn syrup’ or ‘corn syrup’ throw it away.
- Avoid fake foods. Eliminate products that contain artificial sweeteners, including acesulfame-K, aspartame, saccharine, sucralose; research shows that they will only make you fatter in the long run because you will eat more calories and store more fat.
- Send them packing. Pack a lunch for school/work and pack a cooler if you’re going to be out for the day. Try a sandwich with meat (or meat alternative), lots of veggies (think lettuce, tomato, onions, etc.) and hummus for a spread between 100% whole wheat bread. Toss in some carrots or other finger veggies and a piece of fruit and you’re done. Salad bars are also great, but take it easy on the dressings – they pack a ton of sugar and fat per tablespoon. Check out this blog for some other great ideas.
- Eat out less. The more you eat out, the fatter you will be – it’s plain and simple. Try to avoid fast food most of the time. If you do eat out, put half of the meal in a ‘to-go’ box before you even start eating.
- Chew your food – a lot. Chew each mouthful of food at least 30 times before swallowing. It will help you digest your food and allow your body time to register that it’s had enough.
- Eliminate soda. Doing only this will help you and your kids immensely more healthy. Drink water instead – shoot for 2-4 ounces of water every 30 minutes or so.
- Don’t diet. Diets don’t work – they don’t work for adults and they certainly don’t work for kids. Adopt healthier eating habits instead. Learn to love healthy food by eating it regularly.
- Model the eating habits you want your kids (or children around you) to learn. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work. If this is a priority for your kids, it’s a priority for you too. Get healthier as a family and everybody wins.
Change your lifestyle
- Get moving. Regular exercise is essential for long term weight loss. This doesn’t mean chaining your kids to the treadmill. Let them run around and play; encourage them to do so and help them find physical activities or sports that they enjoy.
- Get more sleep. Research shows that kids needs at least 8 hours of sleep; more is better. Help them wind down at night by turning down the lights, encouraging reading before bed and/or taking a hot bath. Get as much sleep before midnight as possible.
- Turn off the TV. Next to sleep and work, most of our time is spent in front of the TV. Don’t eat in front of the TV –you’ll eat more. Watch TV less and get more active.
- Spend time with your kids. They need it; you need it. Get out and be active together.
Change your mind
- Tell your kids you love them. Many people assume that kids ‘know’ that their parents love them, but they need to hear it, and hear it a lot. Let them know you love and accept them, and their bodies, just as they are and that you want to support them in being healthy – and that you’ll do it together.
- Praise effort, not results. Talk about your day over dinner and praise any effort made towards healthier living/eating. Walking to school, participating in gym class, turning down a cup cake, anything at all. Acknowledge them for it and their more likely to do it again.
- Don’t be a zealot. Becoming militant about food isn’t going to help anybody. Follow an ‘80/20 Rule’ – do it right 80% of the time and the other 20% won’t matter. If you eat 3 meals/day, that means you have 3 meals/week to do whatever you want.
- Learn together. Whether eating healthy food is new or not, learn something new together with your kids. Take a class or a workshop and/or prepare food together. Make it part of your time together. They will only be young for a little while.
Getting the help you need
Incorporating these steps will take time and it can be a lot of change. Start slow – any positive change is a change in the right direction. For those of you that would like more support or that do better when things are laid out for you, learn more about the Family Program offered through Optimal Body Balance. The Family Program offers step-by-step assistance over the course of six weeks to help you and your family adjust to healthier lifestyle changes while providing proven advice and tricks to help ease you, and your children, through the transition. This program works especially well for busy families with little time as well as for those that feel stuck or are in a rut. Let the experts guide you through the Family Program; together, we can change the shape of things to come and help our kids live healthier, happier lives.
- Pierce JW, Wardle J. Cause and effect beliefs and self-esteem of overweight children. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 1997;38:645-650.