The Area Health Education Center posted that as parents, caregivers, teachers, and community members, we are at the forefront of ensuring the health of our children and reducing their risk of chronic health conditions. We can do this by supporting and encouraging children to participate in physical activities that get them moving for at least 60 minutes a day, providing nutritious food and beverage options, and making sure they get adequate sleep. This sounds much easier than it is, and the reality of convincing our kids to step away from the television or computer and make healthy food choices is a daily struggle. Childhood obesity has become a major problem in the United States and it is crucial that we adults step up to the plate (in more ways than one) and show children that making even small changes can make a big difference to their future.
In the United States, approximately 1 in 6 (18%) youth ages 2-19 are obese. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines obesity in children and young people as BMI (Body Mass Index) at or above the 95th percentile for young people. This number puts these children at higher risk for asthma, diabetes, heart disease, bone, and joint problems, and sleep apnea. If we do not make changes now, they are more likely to have obesity as adults and continue to increase their risk of physical and mental health problems.
There are many ways for all of us to join in the effort to prevent obesity and support healthy growth in children. As a parent or caregiver, you are a great influence on their choices and actions, so you have an opportunity to lead by example. You can begin by helping them develop healthy eating habits and providing them with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products to receive the recommended daily intake of essential foods. You can also serve reasonably sized food portions, limit (or eliminate) sugar-sweetened beverages, replace high-calorie snacks with low-fat tasty alternatives, and encourage them to drink more water. Limiting their time in front of electronic devices and encouraging active play is also important.
Planning meals and snacks is a good start to eating healthy. You can make it fun for yourself and the kids, find new recipes, and explore ways to incorporate all the nutrients you need in a delicious and enjoyable way. Check out Choosemyplate.gov for family-friendly recipes, games, and activities for the kids. You can also visit the USDA’s Recipe Website for healthy affordable recipes and ideas. Get kids in on the action by letting them pick out new foods to try at your local farmers market or grocery store to make preparation fun. They may be surprised by how much they like the new foods they try. As their caregivers, we are responsible for guiding them and being their role model. Parenting experts agree that children pick up behaviors based on what they observe, so if they see you making and enjoying healthy food choices, they will start to choose it themselves.