We live in a time when childhood obesity is reaching epic proportions, as are the typical food servings dished up to our nation’s youth – much to their naive delight. The old adage remains true: ignorance is bliss, but its time for our children to get educated on the relationship of lifestyle and health!
Rather than hemming and hawing about the gravity of the problem, practical methods of teaching children how to recognize and, in turn, circumvent negative societal influences while also imparting how and why to make better lifestyle choices is long overdue. Given all of the negative stimuli our kids encounter each and every day – sometimes hour by hour – of course they are going to make poor choices. Simply put, they are easy prey, and society is setting them up for failure.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that over 20 percent of American children are either overweight or obese, now more than ever we must help our kids recognize the overwhelming number of cultural influences outside their span of control that impact their decision making, and lessen the emotional burden carried by children who have internalized the responsibility for their weight problem. Rather than harboring displaced blame or guilt, our nation’s children would greatly benefit from re-focusing their emotional and physical energy on effecting positive, healthful changes in their life.
This all sounds good in theory but, rather than conjecture, we need action…primarily by parents who are the true foot soldiers in our kids’ battle of the bulge. And, it’s NOT rocket science. For starters, parents must teach their children the vernacular of healthy living, so they understand exactly why they are being asked to do things as it relates to their health so they make the proper connections. Children should know that it’s important to drink milk because it contains calcium that will make their bones strong, or to eat protein because it will help them develop muscle strength. They should know that their parents go to the gym to work out or walk outside because exercising helps keep their heart healthy.
Parents, teachers and other adolescent caregivers should TALK about the health risks of a chronically overweight and obese condition, including age-appropriate concepts related to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Parents should point out those television commercials, billboards and other commercial advertising that attempts to influence their child(ren) to make a poor choice, and talk about what a healthy alternative would be. While out and about, parents should show the child exactly how temptations are strategically placed practically everywhere they go, and how to read the Nutrition Facts on food labels so they don’t fall victim to false or misleading health claims.
Parents should teach children how to eat “appropriate” portions of food – even when the restaurant serves entrees that could feed a family of four, should stock their home with nutritious snack and other foods so that their children are enabled to make proper choices, and should limit the amount of time their child is allowed to spend in front of the TV, computer and/or video game system. Parents should teach their child to take the stairs even if an elevator is right nearby. This is the tip of the iceberg…there are so many practical ways we can teach our kids to make the right choices in life.
The bottom line is simple: childhood obesity not only spells danger for the future health of our children, but for our nation at large. As such, it’s our collective responsibility to help kids navigate the omnipresent cultural landmines.