Obesity in children is truly a growing epidemic. In a conversation I recently had with my children's pediatrician I was surprised to find out how both type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are now affecting more kids than ever! The fact that either of these adult-onset issues affects kids at all is a big deal!
What can be done? For starters, we as parents are the best examples to our children. Children are always watching us and they mimic what we do. If we eat it, it must be ok. If we eat lots of the "bad" stuff and not so much of the "good" stuff well, they'll do that too. Good nutrition starts in the home and, since we're the parents and have the money, its up to us to make good decisions in the grocery store. Up to a certain age if we don't buy it then our kids won't be able to eat it.
Here's a shocker - many obese kids (and adults) are actually nutritionally starved. Consuming too many processed foods and not enough REAL foods can leave the body so low in so many important vitamins and minerals. As well, sugar (and its digestion) robs the body of vital nutrients.
Food should never become a power struggle between a parent and a child. Serve your child good, healthy choices and don't make a big deal about what is eaten and what isn't. Many parents overestimate their children's needs and the amount of food required (which we do for ourselves as well). Its best to create simple meals and serve smaller portions more frequently throughout the day - especially for younger children. A child's caloric needs and many of the basic nutrients will vary from ages two through ten and a child knows when they are hungry and full. The more we can support our children in avoiding empty calories (processed foods, sugary drinks, fast food, etc.) the better chance they will have of optimum growth and health and therefore help to avoid obesity. Like adults, boredom and eating for emotional reasons can happen. Any emotion can be a trigger for over eating and as parents it is our job to teach our children productive tools that can help them with the tirade of emotions they may face.
Many children like to help and be part of their nutrition and we can nurture this by creatively inspiring their food choices and by teaching them about the benefits of food and having them help us cook. Avoid battles and hassles over food and avoid rewards and bribes of dessert and sweets for eating their vegetables. Food can have such an emotional stronghold on us and this can carry over from childhood to adulthood.
Of course, there's much more to the story than this and much more that can be done. Childhood obesity is rampant in our society and there are so many facets that contribute to this. But for now, love and enjoy your children just the way they are - be their example of how to eat healthy and then get out and incorporate this thing called exercise in a fun way!