National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

What things can you do to help fight obesity in your teens? (image via Flickr)

There is no question that obesity at every age is one of the greatest challenges our country faces.  Obesity rates in almost every state for almost every age group have reached epidemic proportions and finding real, long-term solutions to the problem must be a national priority.  Nowhere, however, is this more important than with our children.  According to reports from the CDC, more than 15% of our children between the ages of 2-19 are obese, three times as many as in 1980.  This health crisis is the reason that President Barack Obama designated September as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

Why Being Overweight is a Health Risk

The primary concern with childhood obesity is the long term health consequences that being obese can contribute to like heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and sleep apnea.  These health problems can immediately impact a child’s life and can put that child at risk for life-long weight-related health problems.

In addition to the health consequences, obesity in childhood can result in challenges across many other areas of a child’s life.   Obese adolescents are more likely to face social discrimination including bullying, having problems making friends, and being ostracized from peers.  These years are a critical time for developing social skills, healthy self-esteem, and an individual identity.  Obese teens may lack the opportunities to learn the social skills they need to excel in adulthood.

What Parents Can Do to Help

The key to fighting the battle against childhood obesity is helping children and teens develop healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with food.  This starts at home.   There is no magic pill or secret formula to maintaining a healthy weight.  Calories coming in need to be balanced with calories out, which means that the calories your child is eating and drinking each day cannot be more than they are expending.  When this relationship is out of balance, children gain weight.

It is important to note that children are still growing and need good nutritious food in order to support normal growth and development.   If your child is overweight or obese, you need to work with their medical professional to develop a plan for reducing their weight in a way that doesn’t compromise their development.  In many cases, this means reducing the rate of weight gain rather than losing weight.

Here are some tips that will help parents create the environment for and support the development of healthy eating habits in their home.

1.     Practice What You Preach

If you want your children to have good eating habits, provide them with a good role model.  Children learn what they live and if you deal with stress by zoning out in front of the TV for hours while eating an entire gallon of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, it will be more difficult for them to develop non-food centric stress management strategies.

2.     Be Positive

Degrading, demeaning, or otherwise making your child feel bad about themselves for being overweight is never going to help them become healthier.  In fact, it may even make it harder for them to make positive, lasting changes that will improve their health and their life.  Focus on positive things, praise their progress, and celebrate success.

3.     Get Everyone Moving

Choose activities for family time that are active like biking, walking, hiking, playing sports, swimming, or doing anything together that gets your family moving.

4.     Set Reasonable Expectations

Set your child up for success by making sure everyone’s expectations are reasonable, realistic, and achievable.  Work with your medical professional to set goals that will support a positive sense of progress and small successes.

 

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