In the United States, one in three children is obese or overweight. In Kentucky, the rate is even higher. Kentucky high school students have the worst obesity rate in the country. Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, which can lead to increased risk of chronic health issues such as diabetes and heart disease, and mental problems as well.
Many factors lead to childhood obesity, such as too much time spent watching TV or playing computer games, poor diet of sugary snacks and beverages, inconsistent sleep schedule and more. While there is no single solution to “cure” obesity, there are many ways parents can help prevent obesity and lead children to a healthier lifestyle.
▪ Aim for five servings of palm-size fruits and vegetables a day. Try to have a rainbow of fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks. Allow children to help in the kitchen and grocery shopping. It may take 10 tries or more for children to like a new food, but do offer the same meals for everyone, and eat together as a family.
▪ Limit leisure screen time to two hours or less each day. Prolonged TV and electronic device time is associated with excess weight gain, more snacking, lower reading scores and attention problems. Keep TVs and electronic devices out of children’s rooms. Set family rules, and let children know how much screen time they get.
▪ Get at least an hour of exercise each day. Exercise not only helps your child maintain healthy weight and supports growth development, but also improves self-esteem and lowers stress. To add more exercise to the day, make a list of fun activities to do, such as playing outside, dancing to music or planting a garden.
▪ Avoid high-calorie and sweetened beverages. Water and low-fat milk (or dairy alternatives) are the best for hydration. Limit soda, sports drink, fruit juice and other sweetened drinks. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 4 to 6 ounces ( 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup) of fruit juice a day for children ages 1 to 6, and a limit of 8 to 12 ounces a day of fruit juice for children ages 7 to 18. Try fruit-infused water, such as strawberry lemon or citrus blueberry water.
Children are more like to develop healthful lifestyles when they see you do it. Show by example and involve children in cooking and physical activities. As a family, taking small steps at a time can make a big impact in the future.
Jennifer Kraschnewski is an outpatient registered dietitian in the Nutrition Education department at Baptist Health Lexington.