Childhood obesity has been, and continues to be, a serious problem in the United States, putting children and adolescents at risk for poor health and various health complications. Obesity prevalence among children and adolescents is still too high, rising in numbers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding and promoting healthy lifestyle choices in our ever-changing world is important for families everywhere.
The pandemic caused economic hardship, school closings and limited some of the physical activities we came to regularly enjoy – including kids sports and extracurricular programs. While schools reopened and our calendars filled with activities again, the pandemic’s influence on our lifestyles quickly and significantly impacted habits. This is true for our kids too, emphasizing the importance of using this summer season to promote healthy lives for all children.
While several factors contribute to childhood obesity, including behavior, genetics and community circumstances, a child’s lifestyle is often the main contributor to this health challenge. Namely, too little activity and too many calories from food and drinks. This can potentially lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in your child, which can also cause other health complications.
Improving the entire family’s diet and exercise habits is one of the best ways to achieve a healthy weight in your child and potentially reverse childhood obesity. Involving the whole family and working together to make gradual changes can also be a great way to bond.
Parents can help prevent childhood obesity by providing healthy meals and snacks for their growing bodies and nutrition education outside of health class. Modeling healthy eating behaviors and attitudes within the house as a parent can also promote healthy habits that carry into their teen years and adulthood. Allowing children to be a part of grocery shopping is also a great way to focus on the family’s nutrition and work as a team.
Avoid Fad Dieting
Parents should also always avoid fad dieting or trends. Children need healthy varied diets, so it is important to not put kids on strict, restrictive diets. Focusing on “health” as opposed to “weight” is key.
Physical activity and exercise are also key to promoting healthy habits and decreasing the likelihood of obesity. Getting 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity per day may seem daunting at first, but short sessions of movement can add up.
Limiting extended screen time on devices and swapping that time for outdoor play is a simple change parents can make to increase physical activity. Walking in the park, visiting a playground and swimming during the summer months are great ways to make exercise fun.
Even household chores can help boost activity – and give you an extra hand around the house. For example, taking the dog for a walk or vacuuming and dusting around the house can also help incorporate physical activity into a child’s daily routine. Always keep in mind that children should not engage in excessive amounts of exercise. Exercise should be fun and can be “play” for kids.
Families wanting to achieve a healthier lifestyle may turn to the internet for help or be tempted to try popular trends. It’s important that you have a conversation with your doctor or primary care physician before making any major changes or jumping into the latest fitness trend, especially when it comes to your kids. You can work with them on specific goals that are small, yet challenging, to increase exercise and improve nutrition, ensuring the steps you take are right for your family’s unique needs. Your doctor may also refer you to a family-based program for kids with overweight conditions or related complications to help you and your child on this journey.
Adopting a healthier lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle no matter your age. but starting with small changes can make a big impact over time.
*Krystal Russell, APRN, CNP, is a family nurse practitioner for Mercy Health. She sees patients of all ages, including pediatric patients and teenagers, and enjoys working with her patients on health promotion, wellness and disease prevention and treatment.