September is National Childhood Obesity Month. Over the past two decades, childhood obesity rates have continued to rise. Obesity during childhood poses both immediate and future health issues, such as increased risk of asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Here are five things you can do as a family to reduce childhood obesity:
- Model a healthy eating pattern. Choose at least one night per week to eat as a family without electronic devices and distractions from the TV. Parents should eat the same meal as their children, which includes a variety of foods from the different food groups like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
- Avoid buying sugary beverages for the house. Save these for special occasions outside of the home like parties and holidays. Replace sugary beverages like soda, fruit-flavored drinks, and flavored milk with water, 100% fruit juice (best to dilute with water), plain low-fat milk, or milk alternative (i.e. soymilk or almond milk).
- Move more as a family. Children and adolescents who are active have stronger muscles and bones, better cardiovascular fitness, and lower body fat compared to their peers who are inactive. Children ages 3-5 should be active throughout the day, while those 6-17 years old should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Things like walking the family pet after school, riding bikes, and having relay races in the front yard are all ways to incorporate physical activity in a family-friendly way. Active chores such as washing the car, vacuuming, or raking leaves also count. Families should also encourage extracurricular activities like swimming, basketball, or soccer when possible.
- Set consistent sleep routines. Good sleep can prevent type 2 diabetes, obesity, injuries, and problems with attention and behavior. Insufficient sleep has been linked with weight gain, most likely due to children eating more and being less active since they are tired. Sufficient sleep varies by age but anywhere from 8-12 hours can be beneficial for the growing and developing child.
- Replace screen time with family time. Too much screen times can lead to poor sleep patterns, weight gain, lower performance in school, and poor mental health. Limiting screen time can free up time for family activities and can remove cues to eat unhealthy food. Turning screens off an hour before bed and removing screens from children’s bedrooms can help reduce screen time and improve sleep.
Written by Victoria Luera, Lone Star Circle of Care Registered Dietitian. Submitted by Ashley Wild.