According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2018, obesity rates have gone from 13.9% to 18.5% overall. Children today are less active, focusing more on technology than activity, which can create serious medical conditions early in life. Here are several tips provided by Dr. Vinay Saranga on how to reduce the risk.
Talk to Your Child: A conversation about weight needs to be handled delicately so that you don’t hurt your child’s feelings. It’s important to be empathetic while educating yourself and your child on the detrimental effects of added weight. It’s best to let your child guide the conversation to keep an open line of communication. While speaking with your child about his/her weight, refrain from making statements and ask questions instead. For instance, instead of saying “You’re not very active” rephrase it into a question “How can you become more active?”
Encourage Healthy Eating Habits: Eating a balanced diet is a great way to help control weight. Be sure that your child is eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and buy whole grain foods instead of white. It’s also best to limit beverages loaded with sugar and opt for more water. Let your child get creative with his/her water by adding some fruit to naturally sweeten it and make it more exciting.
Go slow: If you introduce too many new things at once you may overwhelm your kids. Go slow and remember that every little step helps you accomplish the bigger goal of better health. For example, every meal might not be 100% low fat or low sugar, but a good place to start might be to reduce the serving of salt or sugar you use to prepare a dish, slightly reduce portion sizes, exchange water in place of soda or juice, and offer a serving of veggies at each meal.
Make Activity a Family Event: Being active at least 30 minutes a day is a great way to help remove excess weight and strengthen muscles. Brainstorm with your child some outside activities that he/she enjoys and make a plan. Even if you don’t have much time during the week to be active with your child, make activity a family event on the weekends. Go to a park, take a walk in nature, go to the roller skating rink or visit a zoo. Those include lots of walking and provide some education along the way.
Include Your Child in Healthy Decisions: Children want to feel included in family decisions so let them participate in the healthy decisions. Ask your child what he/she would like to have for dinner or where he/she would like to go on family activity day. Including your child increases the likelihood that your child will stick with a healthy lifestyle.
Make it fun: After including them in the discussion, be sure to make it fun for them. When your kids look forward to something and get enjoyment out of it, they are more likely to want to engage. For example: you can invite their friends to partake in an outdoor activity or offer them something to look forward to if they eat well for a week.
Set the example: Children are always watching every move their parents make. If you want your children to eat better and be more active, you must also model this behavior. You lose credibility with your kids if you tell them to do something but you don’t practice what you preach.
Get help: There are a lot of food choices, recipes and recommendations out there, and sometimes it can all be confusing. When in doubt about what’s right for your kids, always talk to their pediatrician or seek the advice or a dietician or nutritionist who can help clear up any confusion or questions you have.
Vinay Saranga M.D. is a child psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry www.sarangapsychiatry.com