September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. One in 5 children in the United States has obesity. Childhood obesity puts kids at risk for health problems that were once only seen in adults, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. While there is no simple solution, there are many ways parents and caregivers can help children reach a healthy weight.
Eat the Rainbow
Having a healthy diet can help children get the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development, and help them reach a healthy weight. A healthy diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy.
Unfortunately, very few people get enough fruits and vegetables. In 2017, just 2% of high school students ate enough vegetables, and 7% ate enough fruit. Help your kids eat the rainbow. Different colors signal different nutrients, so choose a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to get a variety of vitamins and minerals in your family’s diet. Aim to make half of their plate fruits and vegetables for optimal health.
Check out these recipes featuring different fruits and vegetables:
- Apricot-Sage Chicken with Carrots
- Slow Cooker Peanut Sauce Pork with Zucchini Noodles
- Breakfast Yogurt Splits
Compared to those who are inactive, physically active youth have stronger muscles and better cardiovascular fitness. They also typically have lower body fat and stronger bones. Regular physical activity in childhood also reduces the risk of depression. Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
No one said physical activity has to be boring! Here are just a few fun ideas to get you started.
- Visit one of Johnson County’s fabulous of parks. A few of our favorites are Sar Ko Par Park in Lenexa, Celebration Park in Gardner, Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village and Wilder Bluff Park in Shawnee.
- Explore Johnson County’s 455 miles of hiking, walking and biking trails. Find a new trail near you: https://www.jcprd.com/592/Trail-Guide.
- Go for a family swim at one of the community centers in Johnson County. You can get a day pass and enjoy climbing walls, slides, fountains and diving boards.
Slow Down on Sugar
Most of us eat and drink too many added sugars, which can lead to health problems such as weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Children under age 2 should have no added sugar in their diet at all, and children over age 2 should keep sugars to less than 10% of their daily calories.
A good way to slow down on sugar is by avoiding sugary drinks like soda, juice drinks, and flavored milk. Help your kids rethink their drink by offering water or plain milk instead. Also, watch labels for added sugar in cereals and other breakfast foods.
Reduce Screen Time
Adults and children spend over 7 hours a day being sedentary – and that doesn’t include time spent sleeping! Many of these sedentary hours are spent sitting or laying down on a phone, tablet, or computer; watching TV; or playing video games (also known as screen time).
Too much screen time has health consequences: it’s associated with poor sleep, weight gain, lower grades in school, and poor mental health in youth. When you reduce screen time, you free up time for family activities. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends creating a family media plan, and has examples such as keeping meal times tech-free, charging devices at night outside the bedroom, turning screens off an hour before bed, and many more.
Good sleep is critical to prevent type 2 diabetes, obesity, poor mental health, and problems with attention and behavior. Did you know that children 6-12 years old need 9-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night and youth 13-18 need 8-10 hours? Too little sleep is associated with obesity partly because inadequate sleep can make us eat more and be less physically active. Help your children sleep better by making sure they’re active during the day, removing screens from their bedrooms, and setting a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends.
Kids imitate the adults in their lives. Be a role model for them by adopting these healthy habits, and they will too! Finally, remember that obesity is a complex disease with many contributing factors. If you have more questions about childhood obesity, please consult your health care provider.