Prevent Childhood Obesity by Creating a Healthy Home
Childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. Here's how to keep your child healthy.
Childhood obesity is an increasing epidemic. In North Carolina, almost one in three children is either overweight or obese. How can you tell if your child is one of them?
Pediatricians use a tool called the Body Mass Index (BMI) to assess whether a child is overweight or obese. The BMI is calculated based on height and weight, and then graphed on a chart based on the child’s age. A BMI between five and 85 percent is considered normal. A BMI from 85 to 95 percent is considered overweight, and a BMI above 95 percent is considered obese. You can find a helpful tool at nccd.cdc.gov to calculate your child’s BMI. Using the BMI chart helps to reveal a problem before it is obvious to a parent or even to a physician.
What can we do to prevent and/or treat childhood obesity in our children? It begins with prevention, and it’s never too late to reset old habits and create a new healthy lifestyle in your home. If your child is a healthy weight, it is still important to maintain good habits to prevent obesity. Here are some guidelines for keeping your children healthy:
- Make fruits and vegetables a key part of your family’s diet. Avoid processed foods and eat more whole foods.
- Eat together as a family. Turn off the TV. Dinnertime is a great opportunity for parents to model healthy eating behaviors, and it provides quality family bonding time.
- Limit electronics to two hours or less daily. Electronics are addictive, so set limits for your child. And be sure to serve as a role model and limit your own use of electronics.
- Establish a consistent sleep routine. Set a bedtime and turn off all electronics off at least one hour before bed. Insufficient sleep increases hormones for hunger cues and can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors.
- Water is the best beverage. Avoid sugary drinks. If your kids don’t have juice, soda, or sports drinks at home, then water becomes the best choice.
- Avoid fast food and limit eating out. The goal of restaurants is to make sure you want to come back, not necessarily to keep you healthy. When you cook at home, you know exactly what you’re feeding your family.
- Make sure your children are getting at least one hour of daily activity. Turn off the electronics and encourage everyone to play outside. Turn on music for dancing. Play sports. Take a family walk. Ride bikes. Keep it fun and keep your kids active.
- Banish junk food from your home. A treat should be a special event, not a daily event. If you have apples and chips sitting next to each other, who among us wouldn’t pick the chips? But if the choice is between apples or oranges, you’ll end up with a healthy snack. You can’t sneak junk food or sugary drinks if they’re not in the house.
- Love your child by setting limits and teaching them to embrace a healthy lifestyle. Too often, parents and grandparents want to show love by showering children with sweets and junk food. I once heard a 3-year-old child say to her mom, “You don't love me because you won’t give me ice cream.” Let them know you love them by saying no to junk food.
The easiest way to keep your children healthy is to set up effective routines at a young age. If you have already developed poor habits in your family, now is the time to change them. Just be prepared for resistance. The behavioral battle to turn around unhealthy habits can feel overwhelming. Persistence and modeling good healthy behaviors can help change your children’s mindset about food, exercise and health.
That said, if you’ve created a healthy home environment but your child is still battling with weight issues, talk to your pediatrician. They may need to do bloodwork to assess for other issues causing weight gain. Your doctor can also offer additional tools to help you keep your child healthy, including assistance with behavioral issues, recommending a dietician or putting you in touch with local community support. As parents, we are never alone. We all have the support, the ability and the responsibility to develop a healthy lifestyle for our children that will last a lifetime.
Dr. Jennifer Hudson is a pediatrician at Salisbury Pediatrics and mother of three teenagers. She has run the nutrition clinic at Salisbury Pediatrics for the past 12 years, working one-on-one with parents and children to create healthy lifestyles.