Raising Healthy Kids

7 Steps to Conquer Childhood Obesity

Share This

By Stacy Leatherwood Cannon, M.D.

A few years ago, the medical community thought childhood obesity had peaked. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Today, one out of five children is obese, and the latest numbers indicate that rates of childhood obesity show no signs of waning.

The stakes for obese kids are high. Beyond vanity and social anxiety, being overweight or obese during childhood increases the risks of developing long-term complications that can impact health for a lifetime.

Reining in the Obesity Epidemic

The typical American lifestyle requires kids to be “on” around the clock. Parents rush them from school to social activities and then home to do homework and gulp down dinner before bed. All of that running around is not only stressful, it also leaves little time for food preparation, exercise and mindfulness.

Families who want to change the culture in their household to be healthier need to be intentional about it. Here’s how:

  1. Be a good role model. Kids imitate their parents — even unknowingly. So, if you’re mindlessly nibbling on chips while you’re watching TV or digging into a pint of ice cream after a tough day, you can expect your kids to do the same. Similarly, if you hit the gym when you’re feeling stressed or snack on carrots while you prepare dinner, your kids are more likely to follow suit there, too.
  1. Practice moderation. I don’t have a problem with kids eating a cupcake to celebrate a classmate’s birthday. However, eating cupcakes on a daily basis can set a child up for weight issues down the line. Instead, change the culture to support better dietary choices. Want dessert? Serve your child a bowl of berries with a dollop of cream. Or share a bowl of sorbet.
  1. Limit device use. Devices have a lot to do with obesity. Devices not only keep kids from exercising and getting outside, they’re also linked to stress and depression — both emotional states can lead to increased food cravings and overeating. Plus, when kids are on devices, they often engage in mindless eating.
  1. Clean up your kitchen. Stock your pantry with healthy snacks. Wash and cut vegetables so they’re ready to eat and then store them in the front of the refrigerator. That way, when your kids are hungry, they’ll reach for those snacks first.
  1. Plan ahead. With today’s busy schedules, a lot of families rely on take-out and fast food each week. If you plan ahead, you may be able to limit fast food outings to one day a week — or just buy prepared side dishes for meals. Better yet, get acquainted with your instant pot or slow cooker. That way, you can prepare meals in the morning and they’ll be ready in time for dinner.
  1. Eat smaller portions. Portion sizes, especially for kids, are much larger than they should be. So, even if you’re trying to make healthy meals, your kids may be overeating. Downsize your dinner plates and if kids want seconds, focus on vegetables first.
  1. Get creative. Think about exercise — and even food — in less conventional ways. So instead of always serving up apples after school, let kids pick a new fruit each week to try. With regard to exercise, don’t limit your kids to sports or hitting the gym. You can squeeze in activity by parking far away from the grocery store, playing freeze dance, where you put on music and have kids dance then pause the music so they freeze (if they move after the music stops, they’re out), or even shooting hoops in the backyard.

Look at the Big Picture

Make sure you know your child’s height, weight and body mass index. If your child falls in the overweight or obese range, don’t blow it off. While some kids may have a larger frame, and exercise does help, there is often more to the story. A better approach: Talk to your doctor about additional testing.

It’s important to know whether your child is at risk for developing heart issues or diabetes. Then, instead of trying to overhaul your world in one shot, choose one or two areas to focus on. Approaching big change that way is not only less overwhelming, it’s also more sustainable.

Some key benchmarks: five fruits and vegetables daily, less than two hours of recreational screen time, one hour of physical activity and zero sugar-sweetened drinks.

For more healthy, family-friendly ideas, download the 5-2-1-0 Kids! app. This resource provides healthy indoor games and teaches children the importance of healthy habits.

To make an appointment with a pediatrician, call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936) or visit henryford.com.