Building Healthy Habits Last for a Lifetime
September is childhood obesity awareness month and while many youths in America may not think they are overweight, let alone obese, in fact almost 19% of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese according to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (AJPM). This commonly turns into a problem as these youths age as well with about 80% of obese adolescents becoming obese adults (AJPM).
How do you know when you are considered overweight or obese?
According to the Mayo Clinic, children with a BMI between the 84th and 94th percentiles are considered overweight and children with a BMI in the 95th percentile or above are considered obese. Because children’s body types can vary greatly, a doctor takes their growth and development into consideration as well when calculating this number.
What are some underlying causes of childhood obesity?
Multiple factors such as diet, lack of exercise, family factors and socioeconomic factors can play a role. Consuming high-calorie food frequently, such as fast food or baked goods, can increase a child’s risk. Combining those eating habits with a child who spends their time behind screens or is getting limited physical activities means those calories will not be burned which can in turn lead to obesity.
Home environment plays a large role as well because if a child comes from a family with many obese members, they are more likely to become obese. This risk also increases if their family always keeps high-calorie food available and limits their encouragement of exercising. This also plays a role in certain communities that have less access to grocery stores with healthy options or community members opting for choices that last longer than fresh foods such as frozen meals, cookies or chips.
What can YOU do to prevent this?
- Eat and drink healthy: Encourage water drinking at every meal by keeping a full pitcher on the dinner table and giving children a reusable one they can fill up throughout the day themselves. Fruits and vegetables should also be consumed throughout the day with fruit making up a quarter of the plate during breakfast and lunch and vegetables making up at least a quarter of the plate during lunch and dinner with both being enjoyed as snacks. This does not need to be a daunting task! Make this fun or even a competition. Decide on a vegetable as a family that everyone is going to try that week or even try cutting up veggies into fun shapes. Encourage both drinking water and eating healthy by giving whoever drank the most/did the best a reward at night!
- Play every day/ Go outside: By limiting screen time and promoting physical activity, children will burn excess calories and reduce their risk of obesity by keeping that heart pumping. It also does not hurt that a child who has been running around all day is usually tired and sleeps well at night which is also important because growing children need, on average, 10 hours of sleep per night!
- Enjoy family time: This one may seem too simple, but it is true! Children that enjoy more meals as family reduce their risk of obesity. Let children be a part of the decision making process when it comes to what will be eaten that night and the preparation as well.
"Successfully lowering obesity rates in children requires the whole family to change their eating and physical activity habits," notes Anna McKain, Senior Director of Community Health. "Kids learn unhealthy habits at home, and many parents or caregivers don't realize how the choices they make affect those who look up to them. If families don't know how to get started, reaching out to health care providers or supportive organizations like the Y are great first steps."