Positive Lifestyles for Kids
Barbara A. Brehm
Today’s environment features the easy availability of tasty food — much of it too high in sugar, fat, salt and calories — and too few opportunities for physical activity. We eat too much and exercise too little. The result is obesity, too much body fat and the health problems that often follow. Health professionals have expressed alarm at the rising obesity rates in all segments of the population, including children and adolescents.
Not every overweight child becomes an overweight adult. Many children “grow out of” obesity at some point. And many children who are thin or normal weight will become obese during their adult years. Helping children develop healthful lifestyles that include good food choices, lots of love and plenty of physical activity prevents obesity, gives overweight kids a chance to “grow out of” their obesity and provides children with the skills they need to nurture good health throughout their lives.
If you have overweight children, you have an extra incentive to take a good look at your family’s routine. Fortunately, the positive changes you make for your overweight children benefit everyone in your family. With good nutrition and plenty of physical activity, you and everyone in your family can reduce the risk of developing health problems such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Is my child overweight?If you think your child is overweight, check with his/her healthcare provider. Obesity is determined by checking your child’s weight against the weight of other children of the same age and gender. Some parents see their children as fat even though they are of normal weight, while others overlook obesity (It’s just a little baby fat — he’ll grow out of it). Both create problems.
If your provider finds that your child is overweight, the doctor can give you more information on making positive lifestyle changes. In many cases, simple changes can help your child achieve a more normal weight in time. In other cases, your provider may refer you to a nutritionist, or more aggressive weight-loss program, especially if your child is already developing obesity-related health problems. Either way, you will be encouraged to provide nutritious meals and snacks, limit junk food and increase activity levels.
Assess the situationTake a look at your children’s and your family’s lifestyle. Try to uncover the reasons your child is overweight. Too much snacking? Television? Does your child eat in response to stress? Once you figure out the cause, you can begin to find solutions.
Dieting vs. positive lifestyleRestrictive, rigid diets are harmful to children for many reasons.
They are stressful. First, restrictive diets are usually stressful and create bad feelings. Children (and adults) who feel bad resent the changes in their diets. And many people overeat when they feel bad! Food cravings may develop in response to dietary restriction and increase the drive to overeat.
They may be nutritionally inadequate. Restrictive dieting may not provide adequate nutrition. Good nutrition is especially important for growing bodies. Children and teens who diet may compromise bone density and growth. They may lack the energy and motivation to do well in school.
They focus on quick weight loss. Restrictive diets that focus on quick weight loss can lead to a focus on weight loss, rather than on health. A focus on weight loss, in turn, can lead to other quick weightloss strategies, such as use of diet pills, supplements and other drugs, cigarette smoking, laxative abuse and other harmful behaviors.
They are ineffective. Lastly, restrictive diets don’t usually work. People don’t learn how to make good food choices, and how to live with readily available food without gaining weight. When people fail on their diets, they feel guilty and bad about themselves. Ironically, dieting can even cause weight gain when people overeat in response to dieting stress and feel it’s not worth even trying to lose weight because they will only fail.
Instead of encouraging restrictive dieting, limit your child’s empty calories. In one study, teens lost about 1 pound a week simply by drinking water instead of soft drinks. Help your child learn to eat in response to hunger rather than boredom or discomfort.
Physical activityMany overweight children and teens avoid physical activity because it’s uncomfortable or feels awkward. They may be slower than their classmates or feel embarrassed in exercise clothes. Overweight kids may be chosen last for teams, teased or bullied. Be persistent as you help your child find opportunities for physical activity. Walk or bike for transportation, exercise at home with DVDs and look for individualized fitness programs at your local fitness center. Look for coaches and instructors who make your child or teen feel good about themselves.
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