By Kate Halim
Childhood obesity has been on the rise in both kids and teens in recent years. The good news is it’s a condition that is usually preventable with a little attention to diet and exercise. Defined as being well above the average weight for height and age, childhood obesity can lead to a number of physical and mental health issues.
Children who are overweight are at a greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. They also have an increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and breathing problems such as sleep apnea. These children are more likely to be bullied by other kids and could suffer from low self-esteem and depression. And obese kids are more likely to grow up to be obese adults, with the accompanying health issues. Another important risk factor for childhood obesity is having parents who are obese. Children with two obese parents are ten to 12 times more likely to be obese.
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Given all this, many parents are increasingly concerned and wondering what steps they can take to prevent their children from becoming overweight. Children become overweight for different reasons. The most common causes are lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, genetic factors (if it runs in the family), or a combination of some of these factors. Only in rare cases is obesity in a child caused by a medical condition such as a hormone disorder.
Saturday Sun spoke to a paediatrician based in Lagos Mrs. Ngozi Onyemaechi who said that managing weight gain in children and teens is all about balance, similar to how it is for adults. She noted that as their caregivers, parents play a big role in their children’s overall health and should balance their calorie intake with their calorie burn. She added that parents should make sure their children get adequate physical activity daily to prevent obesity.
According to Onyemaechi, “Choosing healthy foods and being active is important not just for adults, but for children too. Children shouldn’t be surviving on ice cream, pizza, noodles, popcorn and fizzy drinks.” Dr. Onyemaechi outlined some proven tips that today’s parents can follow to promote healthy lifestyle at home and make sure their children and teenagers don’t end up obese. They are listed below:
ONE: COOK HEALTHY MEALS
Serve regular, healthy meals and snacks. Make it a priority to sit down and eat together as a family. Whenever possible, teach your children how to prepare healthy food at home. Snacks and fizzy drinks shouldn’t replace balanced diet at home.
TWO: BUY HEALTHY SNACKS
Parents should buy and keep healthy snacks like watermelon, apples, carrots, pawpaw, pear and dried fruit on hand for quick and easy snacks. These options are better than bottled fizzy drinks.
THREE: LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Parents can teach their children to embrace a healthy lifestyle by modelling good habits such as eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods. Children watch their parents do and if they don’t eat healthy foods, their children will follow suit.
FOUR: MAKE WATER YOUR CHILDREN’S BEST FRIEND
While trying to prevent obesity in children in today’s fast-paced society, it is important for parents to skip packaged fruit juice and other sugary drinks and give their children water to drink with snacks. Milk is also a good choice for children when they are eating. They should replace packaged juice and drinks.
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FIVE: LIMIT FAST FOOD
It is very important for parents to limit the way their children eat at restaurants, and also stop them from eating junk foods like cakes, chips, candy, cookies, and crackers. This won’t be easy to do because most children love sweets but parents must stick to this to prevent childhood obesity.
SIX: GIVE THEM A TREAT ONCE IN A WHILE
While it is advisable to feed children healthy food, it is also realistic to give them a treat once in a while. Make treats live up to their name: they are called that for a reason. They shouldn’t show up at every meal or snack time. Parents should let their children know why they don’t get treats all the time.
SEVEN: KEEP YOUR CHILDREN ACTIVE WITH PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
If you don’t want your children or teenagers to end up obese, teach them to be active. Get them up and moving with fun sports games, dance parties, and taking long walks in your neighbourhood. Parents can also provide bikes, scooters, and balls for outdoor fun as well as plan active family activities that will keep everyone in shape. Swimming is another way to keep children active in a fun way.
EIGHT: EXERCISE WITH YOUR CHILDREN TO STAY FIT
In this fight against obesity in children, parents should exercise with y children. Parents can jog along while they ride their bikes. Parents can also put on their swimsuit and play in the pool with their children. Your children will be more likely to adopt good habits if they see you doing them. Children learn by doing what their parents do.
NINE: REDUCE TELEVISION AND VIDEO GAMES TIME
Today’s children hardly play outside because society is no longer what it used to be. While keeping children indoors for their safety is understandable, parents should keep TV and video games to two hours or less each day. This will prompt children to do physical activity more than just sit for hours pressing their phones, ipads, laptops or watching TV.
TEN: ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILDREN TO MOVE MORE
Parents can prevent their children from being obese by encouraging them to get up and run around during commercials and breaks while they are watching TV or make them trek instead of going out in the car all the time. It is also important to teach children the importance of climbing the stairs instead of using the lift.