September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, providing a chance for all of us to learn about the serious health condition plaguing nearly 1/5 of this country’s children. While this epidemic has no clear, simple solution, there are many ways families and individuals can support and help children along a healthier path. For this awareness month, we’ll be diving deeper into how this epidemic started, what is sustaining it, and the steps we can take to keep kids healthy!
What diseases are obese children at risk for?
Children with obesity are more often than not exposed to risk to the following conditions: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even skin conditions like acne or fungal infections. Why is this? In the case of type 2 diabetes, approximately 87% of those diagnosed are overweight. Poor diet can cause our cells resistant to insulin, a hormone that carries sugar from our blood to our cells. High blood sugar levels in cells can cause these cells to gradually fail. Obesity also causes our hearts to pump harder to supply blood to all of our cells, causing high blood pressure. Foods of a high glycemic diet like pizza and fries can trigger acne (which tweens and teens are already highly prone to due to hormone levels and puberty).
What causes obesity in children?
There are many factors that can hinder children from a healthy lifestyle. Most of these factors stem from home life, including a lack of sleep, unhealthy eating patterns, and a lack of physical activity. In rare cases, medical conditions like thyroid problems can motivate childhood obesity.
What should they eat?
I’m not a parent, but I recognize the difficulty parents face in getting dinner prepared for their children, whether necessarily healthy or not. It’s a much easier (and cheaper) alternative to reach for inexpensive, fattening foods like fast foods or drive-thrus. Setting small goals is important; instead of diving straight into what your kids are having for dinner, perhaps try to change the way they snack! Clean, cheap, easy snacks can help your children develop healthier eating habits.
- Edamame is a cheap snack that your kids can even help prepare! Simply steam and have the kids de-shell. These beans pack a ton of protein and are tasty with a dash of salt.
- Smoothies are a great way to incorporate fruit (and vegetables!) into your kids’ diets without it being too obvious. Be careful to not make it too dessert-like; ration add-ins like chocolate and peanut butter. Kids can help by pressing the buttons on the blender!
- Further proof that hummus makes everything better: it can liven up veggies! Make it a family activity by making homemade hummus together.
What should they be doing?
A lack of physical activity plays a huge role in childhood obesity. According to CNN, children up to age 8 spend an average of 2 and a half hours every day in front of a screen (as of 2017). Children ages 8-12 increase that daily use to 4 and a half hours (as of 2015). These children are usually in school for the majority of the day. This screen time greatly hinders any additional opportunities they have after school to be active. What can families do to reverse these numbers?
- Family activities like swimming in the summer and walks during the fall can make fitness fun.
- Especially in Central Pennsylvania, the fall season brings a ton of outdoor activities and festivals! Take your children on a walk around the scenery. This can help make up for the sno-cone they (most likely) will beg for.
- Leading by example can not only help your kids look up to you, but they can follow in healthy footsteps.
What else can we do to help?
Another purpose of National Childhood Obesity Month is body awareness. It’s no secret that children’s feelings about themselves typically reflect their parents’. It’s important to remember that weight does not define your child, and being supportive of their health journey allows them to go about it in a safe, strong way. WebMD writes, “If you accept your child at any weight, they will be more likely to feel good about themselves. It is also important to talk to your children about their weight, allowing them to share their concerns with you.” Be sensitive to your child’s needs; assure them that there is no reason to be embarrassed about their weight and taking small steps to be healthy can go a long way.
The YMCA Center for Healthy Living is introducing a new program in part with the Pennsylvania Department of Health: Healthy Weight and Your Child. This program creates a safe, fun, and active environment. It allows children and families to explore proven methods of living a healthier lifestyle. Studies have shown that this program is effective in reducing a child’s BMI, reducing sedentary behaviors, and increasing physical activity! Follow us on Facebook to receive updates about when this program will start. Every session offers support, education, and activities!
–Madeline Kelly, Digital Communications Coordinator