The sad truth is, one-third of U.S. adults are overweight. Even more alarming, as many as 20% of children and adolescents between the ages of 6 to 19 are obese, a number that has more than tripled since the 1970s. Unfortunately, the habits we adopt in childhood often follow us for a lifetime, and the same can be said for overweight children, who typically grow up to be overweight adults. As a parent or educator, you can teach obesity prevention while minimizing the shame an overweight child is certainly already experiencing emotionally or socially. More than that, there are physical health repercussions for obese children, such as chronic health conditions like early-onset type 2 diabetes.
Not all factors that cause child obesity are in your control, such as genetics and metabolism, but you can help by:
- Promoting health education for students: Educators can use their expertise to reinforce healthy habits, whether they teach P.E. or English. One particularly good resource for teachers is the Let’s Move initiative, which was enacted during the Obama administration in 2010, but is still relevant today.
- Being a positive role model and setting a good example: If you eat whatever you please, whenever you please, it’s likely your child will want to follow your lead. Resist this tendency by showing your child that you, too, eat your broccoli, and don’t encourage your child to always be a member of the “clean plate club.”
- Getting your child moving: The U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health state that children should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, and 30 minutes of vigorous activity at least 3 times per week. By participating in a school sport, your child can also make friends, develop social skills, and learn how to solve problems better.
- Pushing for positive health policies at your child’s school: Although many schools have made great strides in pursuing healthier food options for their students, not all schools are on board. It’s up to the parents and educators to speak up on behalf of the students to make a change, such as 86’ing the soda machine or offering healthier school lunch options.
- Choosing healthy snacks: It can be tempting to reach for a quick, pre-packaged snack, but the healthiest snack options for children are fruits, veggies, whole grains, and high-protein foods. Educators can help parents in learning about healthier snack options, while emphasizing the importance of the child’s health.
- Limiting your child’s screen time: More time in front of the tablet or TV equates to less time for physical activity. It’s important to emphasize playtime for young children and physical activity for older children and adolescents to ensure they are getting enough exercise.
Why Does it Matter to Prevent Child Obesity?
Child obesity can lead to many chronic healthy conditions which can follow them through to adulthood. By focusing on prevention and making lifestyle changes when necessary, you may be able to slow, prevent, or reverse the onset of childhood obesity and the development of diseases like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, joint pain, and even mental illness.
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