Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Did you know that one in three children in the United States is overweight or obese? Children with obesity are at a greater risk of developing other health problems like asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes.


There are many factors that influence childhood obesity, making it difficult to prevent and treat. For one, diet has a significant impact on weight and obesity risk. Eating excess calories, saturated fat, and sugar contributes to weight gain. These foods high in calories, saturated fat, and sugar are widely available, inexpensive, and oftentimes are what’s most appealing to children, making it hard for children to decrease intake. An inactive lifestyle can also increase the risk of obesity. Eating too many calories combined with insufficient exercise can make it even more difficult to prevent overweight and obesity. Older children and adolescents are especially likely to not sleep enough, and inadequate sleep can also contribute to childhood obesity.


Weight gain is a part of healthy child development and growth, so it can be hard to know what the balance is between healthy weight gain and too much weight gain. Here are some ways to help your children grow without gaining too much weight:


  • Regular Pediatrician Visits: Your child’s pediatrician can use growth charts and your child’s height and weight to determine if they’re growing at a healthy rate. Annual physicals by a pediatrician can help catch any excess weight gain early and prevent progression to obesity.


  • Promote a Healthy Lifestyle: Providing adequate drinking water, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein can help ensure your children are eating enough nutritious foods and less of the foods that can lead to weight gain, such as chips, desserts, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Be a role model for your children by eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, and exercising every day.
  • Shape a Healthy School Environment: Knowing your children are in a healthy school environment can give you confidence that they’re in a healthy environment both at home and away from home. Encourage school officials to provide opportunities for children to get physical activity at school through recess, gym class, in-class activities, and after-school sports. Also, you may suggest removing or decreasing access to vending machines and other snacks provided at lunch that contribute to weight gain.


Children with obesity are more likely to be obese as adults and develop many health problems, so now is the time to take action and prevent obesity for children and adolescents!


Red Light, Green Light

There has been a lot of research recently about the need to change our strategies when it comes to convincing our children to eat healthier and try new foods.  The American Council of Exercise (A.C.E.) published a quick list of tips and tricks, some old some new, that show parents optimum ways to introduce their children to different healthy foods and meals. Amongst the popular tricks like eating as a family, modeling healthy habits, and limiting the amount of television, were some tricks that read rather interesting.  New ideas for this life’s generation of children included: letting children choose their portion sizes, exploiting similarities, and making healthy eating fun.  Studies show that if you allow your children to choose how much of a food they put on their plate they are less likely to develop “picky eater” habits and can grow into eating the food on their own accord.  By exploiting similarities, parents can introduce their families to foods that are similar to foods they have already accepted.  If they have grown to enjoy a certain vegetable, as a parent you are more likely to introduce other new foods of similar shapes, colors, and tastes.  Lastly comes making healthy eating fun.  The article suggests growing foods you consume in a garden so the children feel a sense of accomplishment, allowing them to help cook or shop for the foods you eat so they feel more involved and can learn to truly appreciate food for what it is: a way to fuel our bodies.

With the concept of making healthy eating fun in mind I ventured out to find innovative ways to do just this, without having to till up the ground.  Research shows children’s’ minds work differently that adults, and finding ways to introduce a sense of competition, accomplishment, or intrigue into meal planning.  A registered nurse by the name of Rebecca Frager published an article through Cafe for Healthy Eating, that delves into the ways of adolescent healthy eating.  She presents options to aid in getting your children to eat more fruits and vegetables such as: growing a family garden, adding fruits and vegetables to dishes you already eat (i.e. sandwiches, tacos, etc.) and, serving raw fruit and vegetables or salads before a meal when children are most hungry.  The suggestion I found most interesting was her idea to correlate healthy and non healthy eating with visual cues.  She presents and idea called “Green Light, Yellow Light, Red Light”.  By associating foods by these slogans it teaches children the value of food in a way they will understand.  By giving children colorful and different ways to look at food, they will be able to choose healthy foods on their own.  Green light foods include fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and protein sources.  Yellow light foods include white bread, frozen yogurt, canned soups, and some desserts.  Lastly, red light foods include packaged foods, foods with high preservatives, and highly processed options with low nutritional value.  Allowing children to associate foods with these colorful cues allows them to talk about it in their own language and simply associate healthy and unhealthy foods with a color rather than a parental command.trafficlighteating