National surveys estimate that at least one third of United States children are overweight or obese. Since children are the future of our tomorrow, steps must be taken to combat childhood obesity and improve the health of our tomorrow.
Children who are overweight or obese are more likely than normal-weight children to become obese as adults. Helping U.S. children to achieve a healthful weight will greatly reduce risk of chronic, long-term health problems, such as obesity, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoporosis.
The cause of childhood obesity is complex, with multiple factors playing a role. Here are some steps everyone can take to help promote healthier lifestyles and combat childhood obesity:
- Be a Healthy Eating Role Model
The most effective way to get our children eating healthier is to eat healthier ourselves. Whether you are a parent, educator, or live in a community with children, incorporating healthful eating patterns in your own life will help children incorporate them in theirs. Practice and promote energy balance, moderation, and healthful eating patterns for our children.
- Encourage Nutritious Food Groups
Based on the Dietary Guidelines, children should consume whole-grain products often; at least half if not all the grains consumed should be whole grains.
For dairy this amounts varies for growing children:
- Children 2 to 8 years should consume 2 cups of low fat dairy products per day.
- Children 9 years of age and older should consume 3 cups of low fat dairy products per day.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, children should eat at least 5 servings per day. Eighty to ninety of children are not consuming the recommended number of fruit and vegetable servings per day.
- Reduce Portion Size
Just like adults, an increase in portion size leads to an increase in calorie intake. One study showed that children 3 to 5 years of age ate 25% more of an entree and 15% more calories at lunch when presented with portions that were double an age-appropriate standard size. This study also showed that children consumed 25% less of the entree when they were allowed to serve themselves compared to being served a pre-plated entree. Check out MyPlate.gov and get familiar with appropriate portion sized for children and possibly even let them serve themselves.
- Beware of Beverages
Water is the best beverage choice for children. Soft drinks contain calories with no nutrients and are not an ideal beverage for anyone, particularly children. Switching from soft drinks to water can reduce calorie consumption and improve health.
- Eat Meals as a Family
Fewer families eat meals together. However, children who eat dinner with their families at home have a better quality diet than those who do not. Food available outside the homes tend to be higher in calories and fat compared to foods eaten within the home. Make an effort to start eating more meals at home together as a family.
- Get Moving
Physical activity, along with diet, is key components to a healthy lifestyle. The Dietary Guidelines recommend at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily for children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention less than half of older children currently meet this recommendation.
Childhood obesity will not be combated overnight but there is no better time to start than now. By educating ourselves, and those around us, we improve the cause and health of our children.