If you watch TV or read the newspaper it is no secret that obesity among children and youth is a growing concern. The prevalence of overweight and obesity in Canadian children and youth has increased over the past 20 years. Risk of health conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes and high blood cholesterol levels, is increased in children who are obese and overweight. Depression and low self-esteem are also linked with increased body weight and have a negative impact on the overall health and well-being of children.
So, what can we do about obesity and overweight in children and youth? The following article gives some suggestions to help kids grow into a healthy body weight.
Healthy Eating by Example
Children are our biggest fans, so when it comes to making food choices kids will follow our lead. Set a healthy example by starting the day off with breakfast and creating meals and snacks from the four foods groups in Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating. Select "other" foods such as soft drinks, higher fat snack foods and candy less often. Stock your cupboards and fridge with healthy snack foods such as whole grain bread, cereal and crackers, fresh vegetables and fruit, yogurt, cheese and nuts. Making these healthy food choices available will give kids the chance to adopt healthy eating habits early on.
Get Out and Play
Build activity into your daily life. Get your children moving by planning activities as a family. Go for a walk or build a snow fort after dinner or plan a family hike or ski on the weekend. Limit time in front of the TV, computer and videogames and encourage kids to get outside and play. Building a snowman, playing tag, tobogganing and washing the car are all great ways to get kids moving. Involving your children in physical activity at a young age will help them to grow into a healthy body weight and will teach them that activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. And remember, keep it fun. Plan activities that the whole family can enjoy.
Create Healthy Surroundings
At home, make sure that healthy food choices are available and encourage children to get out and play. At school, let teachers know that healthy eating and regular physical activity should be part of school life. Encourage schools to offer healthier food choices in cafeterias, at sporting events and for fundraising activities. Discourage snack foods such as chips, pop and candy bars. Instead promote fruits and vegetables, milk, yogurt and whole grain breads and crackers. As well, encourage other parents and community members to promote healthy eating and active living for our kids. Surrounding children with healthy choices can have a positive impact on their health throughout life.
Build Self Esteem
Be aware of the impact you have in children's lives. Focus on the overall health and well-being of children and youth rather than the specific concerns you may have with body weight. Discourage dieting and avoid making negative comments about body size and shape. Help kids feel good about themselves by making positive comments on their strengths and accomplishments. Remember that body weight changes and increases as part of normal growth. It is not always cause for concern.
Support and encourage children and youth to choose healthy foods, be physically active and love themselves and their bodies. Help them grow into a healthy body weight, and in turn into healthy adults.
If you would like more information on healthy weights, healthy eating or physical activity for children and youth, please call the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit's Health Action Line at 1-800-660-5853 or 613-345-5685 and ask to speak with a Registered Dietitian.
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