Americans are indeed facing an obesity crisis, and perhaps youth obesity statistics are most alarming with approximately 12.7 million children and adolescents diagnosed as obese. Low nutrient rich by high calorie diets top the charts on why so many youth are obese. Plus, youth have a significantly increased sedentary lifestyle for many different reasons, but mostly because of cultural shifts in many areas such as transportation, leisure activities and games. Fewer children are walking and riding bicycles to school and more getting rides from parents and friends. Often urban sprawl is to blame while others point to increased crime and a desire to keep children more sheltered, supervised and safe.
When examined, most children’s leisure activities including watching television, movies, videos and through computer and phone apps such as social networking sites versus going outside and playing, running, walking and cycling to activities. While many students participate in organized athletic activities and games such as soccer, volleyball, football, swimming and tennis, many more have decided to play games via computers or phone apps.
Technological advances and fast food are not to blame for childhood obesity, however. Parents and caregivers need to begin by leading through example, teaching youth about self-discipline and healthy choices. When youth see their parents and role models not exercising and eating unhealthy foods, it’s natural for them to do what they see. Beyond being a good example, parents should set healthy limits and rules that will encourage youth to make good choices.
Some ways to do this include:
- Develop a weekly schedule with your youth to include a morning, after school and evening routines with personal hygiene, healthy meals and snacks, chores, homework/study, exercise and/or athletic activity, television, on-line/phone activities.
- Assign chores to your children that not only have them contributing to the household but also include some physical labor such as raking leaves, scrubbing bathrooms and kitchens, pulling weeds, washing and waxing the car, etc. They will be developing good habits along with learning important life skills while getting a little extra exercise.
- Play physically active games and activities with your children such as basketball and soccer, Frisbee, walking, cycling, swimming and hiking. Your active participation in these activities encourages youth to take part in family play versus seeing it as bring exercise.
- Encourage your youth to participate in some school sponsored or community organized sport. It can be anything that includes some cardiovascular workout such as football, baseball, soccer,tennis, swimming, basketball, gymnastics, cheerleading and/or dance. Most of these activities not only support good physical fitness but also can help youth improve social skills, working in team environments and learning and following rules and structure.
- Make healthy eating a fun family activity. Consider growing your food and developing a vegetable garden or a windowsill garden with easy-to-grow peppers and herbs. Go to farmer’s markets and produce stands together and pick out new vegetables and fruits to try with new recipes that you find on the web. Cook together, juice and blend raw vegetables and fruit and make preparing and eating healthy, fresh vegetables, fruits, meats and grains a daily habit. Have your child take a healthy vitamin supplement, such as SmartyPants Kids Complete.
- Assign your youth one or more days out of the week to make a healthy dinner for the family, or if they are not old enough yet, have them help prepare a healthy meal with a parent, other adult or older sibling. Decide ahead of time what will be prepared, research why it is a nutritious and healthful choice and make sure all of the ingredients are available (this is usually easiest to do on the weekends). This reinforces skills beyond cooking but also helps youth learn about ingredients, nutrition and being thoughtful about the food they eat.
- Limit time spent watching television or on electronic devices and encourage youth to spend a significant amount of time doing physical activities when they are not studying or doing school work.
- Explain to your youth why you are setting schedules, rules and requiring them to do certain activities. When youth understand the reasons behind their parents’ decisions it’s easier for them to accept changes and further develop the link between what they are doing and why they are doing it, reinforcing good habits to develop.
Working with your youth to develop great habits and make healthy choices as they grow into adulthood will help ensure that they will be able to use these skills throughout their lives while passing on these lessons for generations to come.