Updated: Mar 19
As time goes on, it’s becoming more and more apparent that our children and youth are gaining unhealthy weight at an alarming rate.
With the expansion of technology and the easy access to fast-food establishments like McDonald’s, our children and youth have become more inactive while eating less nutritious food. It’s a recipe for disaster and those are not the types of recipes I want in my cookbook.
Thankfully, we have the capability to reduce the childhood obesity rate by starting with our own children. Also, the good news is, these tips for preventing childhood obesity are relatively simple and should give you the guidance you need to ensure your children will grow to be healthy adults!
1. Start Them Young
As with anything, it is far easier to instill and encourage healthy habits in our children rather than try to change unhealthy habits later in life. As such, it is best to incorporate these healthy ways of living right from the beginning. This can include staying healthy and active while pregnant and continuing these habits after birth.
2. Lead By Example
It’s no surprise that children mimic their parents and other adults around them. Where do you think all those cute videos of kids swearing come from (until they don’t stop swearing and it becomes a problem ;))? But the reality is, children mimic their parents and that’s one of the major reasons why parents need be positive role models for their kids.
Furthermore, do you remember a time when you were a kid and your parents made you eat something but when you looked over at their plate you realized they weren’t eating it (and it was probably vegetables)? Yah, those times sucked and felt so unfair! There’s a reason they felt so unfair – kids naturally don’t want to be left out and they also want to do what their parents are doing. It makes them feel included and a little bit grown up. That’s why leading by example is important – it’s far easier to convince Jimmy to eat his vegetables if he sees you eating them everyday too.
The same goes for being active. When your kids are younger, they want to play with you, not have you watch them play. Telling Jimmy to go out and play while you watch tv is only going to result in Jimmy playing for a few minutes, becoming bored and coming inside to sit beside you.
3. Get Them Moving
With the rise of television, iPads, cellphones, gaming systems and more, it’s easy to see why children are becoming more sedentary. Children are naturally gravitating towards using these devices rather than heading outside to play a game of tag.
The key is to find a balance between allowing your children to watch television / using electronic devices and doing physical activities. Try using structure and following a daily schedule. This will eliminate the “surprise” factor when you say it’s time to turn off the t.v. or it’s time to go play. Your child will grow accustomed and learn to expect the schedule you set-up for them. This schedule can include setting out the maximum amount of time spent using electronic devises daily, how much time spent doing a physical activity and so forth.
Another great idea, and is beneficial for family bonding (and yourself), is to make your play time a family event! Get everyone together and go play. This could be anything from playing tag around the house to heading to the back yard or a local park. Furthermore, encourage your children to play sports, join teams or play with their friends. As an added bonus, it’s statistically proven that children and youth who are involved with physical activities such as sports have higher self-esteem and tend to stay “out of trouble” since they are preoccupied out of school hours.
4. Instill Positive Food Habits
Get Them In The Kitchen
This is a key point and perhaps one of the most important – get your kids involved in the food process! Why? I’ll explain below.
Firstly, it teaches valuable lessons that will carry your child through life. You can teach your child how to determine what groceries are needed, how to read recipes, use measuring devices, grocery shopping, importance of budgeting for food, cooking and baking, storing food and so much more.
Secondly, children who are involved in the food process are more likely to eat what they have cooked rather than what is put on their plate. Why is this? They will feel proud of their accomplishments and will feel included. Also, ingredients become less scary and yucky when they were the one’s who added them to the meal!
Don’t Associate Food With Emotions
Emotional eating is practically ingrained in us – something negative happen? We resort to comfort food. Celebrating a happy moment? Rich and delicious dessert is called for. It’s your birthday? Cake! Associating food with emotions can be okay as long as it’s not a constant thing and is less associated with the emotion and more associated with the occasion.
So, how do we ensure we don’t associate emotions with food? Firstly, don’t use food as a reward for positive behaviour, such as getting good marks on a test. The incentive to doing something positive should not be food as your child will learn to associate that behaviour with getting certain types of foods and they will begin to expect it. It’s fine to celebrate an occasion but as noted before, the incentive for the behaviour shouldn’t be food.
Secondly, don’t use or promise food as a way to console your child, make them happy, be quiet, settle down and so forth. I know that kids can be relentless with crying, screaming and begging for something but promising them food will only make matters worse in the long run. Children are smart and if they know that crying, screaming and begging will get them french fries, what do you think they’ll end up doing? Furthermore, they will begin to associate feelings of sadness, anger and being upset with comfort from those foods given to them in those times. I can pretty much guarantee that the types of foods given when the child is screaming is not carrots and lettuce either.
Furthermore, be aware of the habits you have for yourself. If your habit is that every time you go anywhere you always stop for food or a drink, then your child is most likely going to pick-up on that habit.
Lastly, have scheduled “treat” meals. This concept is in line with scheduling television and play times. Children will look forward to these treat meals, whether it be going out for food every Saturday or making pizza and hot dogs Friday nights. This way your child is still enjoying the treats of life but is learning that eating this way should be structured and not just an everyday, every opportunity type of thing.
I truly believe that it is our duty as a society and as parents to do all we can to set the next generation up to be as successful as they possibly can. In doing so, our world will become a better place with more happy and healthy people.
Furthermore, children look to their parents for basically all life’s answers so why not fuel them with information and promote positive habits that will carry them through life?
Lastly, as an added bonus, by teaching and showing our children about positive health and well-being, we are inadvertently becoming healthier ourselves. Overall, it’s a win-win!