The percentage of obese kids and teenagers has increased more than three times since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This is a problem since obesity can have serious health complications. Childhood obesity can make it harder to support our kids' health—now and later in life. The time to start helping them make healthy changes is now.
Childhood Obesity Facts
Facts from the CDC show childhood obesity means a higher risk of:
- Developing chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes, bone and joint issues, sleep apnea, and asthma.
- Having higher cholesterol and blood pressure than other kids, which are risk factors for heart disease.
- Being bullied, which can increase the chances of low self-esteem, isolation, and depression or anxiety.
- Being obese as an adult, further putting them at risk of chronic diseases and other physical or mental conditions.
Besides diet and physical activity, other factors that can contribute to childhood obesity include genetics, amount of sleep, metabolism, community safety, and childhood events. Genetics cannot be changed, but we can work to improve important other factors in our kids’ lives.
How to Support Kids’ Health at Any Age
Here are some things we can do to help kids develop healthy habits early in life.
Encourage Healthier Eating Choices
Most kids have busy schedules that include school, homework, friend and family time, and after-school activities. The food they eat can either fuel their day or make it harder to get through. A poor diet can not only lead to weight gain but also tiredness, crankiness, low energy, lack of focus, and more.
Help them with healthier choices like:
- Eating a well-balanced breakfast with healthy carbohydrates, protein, and fats, before school.
- Encouraging them to eat slowly and mindfully.
- Finding fruits and vegetables they like and adding those to meals or as snacks. Many kids are notoriously picky but serving more whole foods at home can help develop a taste for healthier options.
- Eating together as a family for dinner.
- Replacing white grains with whole grains, such as sprouted grain bread instead of white bread.
- Limiting sugar in meals, snacks, and sugary drinks. Read ingredient labels and avoid foods with high sugar content.
- Encouraging them to drink water instead of sodas.
You can also invite kids to help you in the kitchen. Let them be part of making a meal so they can get familiar with preparing fresh food.
If you need further help, consider talking with a nutritionist who can help in providing kid-friendly, healthy meals and snack ideas. You can also see more suggestions on our children’s health page.
Encourage More Physical Activity
Getting between 30 and 60 minutes of exercise every day is recommended. Unfortunately, kids have a lot of excuses to stay inactive these days. TV, video games, and smartphones or tablets are fun but very stationary.
You can start going for walks together as a family in the evenings or play physically active games together. Getting kids involved in household chores can also add more activity to their weekend days. Help them find regular physical activities they might enjoy outside of the house too, such as school sports.
Also, consider limiting static activities like TV to two hours per day on weeknights.
Talk to the Child’s School
If your child’s school encourages unhealthy habits on a regular basis, you might talk to the principal or their teacher. Bring some ideas for changes that could encourage better kids' health through more activity or healthier food options.
Ask Your Child About Their Lives
Let your child know they can talk with you openly. Lifestyle changes can be complex for anyone, and there are mental and physical factors involved. Communicate about why you are eating healthier and being more active. Let them ask you questions and be involved in the process.
The Bottom Line
Remember that good kids' health is about finding the right balance. It does not mean giving up everything they love but rather finding healthy foods and activities they can enjoy as much as junk foods and sedentary activities. They will be able to take these habits with them throughout childhood and well into adulthood.