Over the past two decades, the number of American children who meet the qualifications of obesity has risen. Childhood obesity poses both immediate and future health risks. When it comes to childhood obesity, prevention is better than attempting to find a cure.
The main causes of childhood obesity are believed to be twofold--too little physical activity and excess calories from food and beverages. However, hormone levels and genetic factors can also play a role in a child’s susceptibility to obesity. Fortunately, there are ways parents and caregivers can significantly reduce childrens’ obesity risk through simple lifestyle changes.
Tips For Preventing Childhood Obesity
The habits that your children learn now can last their entire lives. By encouraging your child to eat wholesome, nutrient-dense foods and increase the amount of time they spend being physically active, you are instilling habits that they will likely carry into adulthood.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate page is an excellent resource for teaching kids about the 5 food groups, and even includes interactive games, apps, and activity sheets that help children learn and get excited about nutrition.
If you are curious about how many calories your child needs per day in order to grow at a healthy rate, take a look at this child-specific calorie chart based on age, gender, and activity levels. Remember, you should never restrict your child’s caloric intake unless specifically recommended by a pediatrician.
Make Every Plate Nutritious & Well-Balanced
Establish a relationship with healthy foods early on by incorporating the following foods and servings into their diets:
- Fresh or frozen vegetables: 3-5 servings per day
- Fresh or frozen fruits: 2-4 servings per day
- Whole-grain products (bread, cereals, and pasta): 6-11 servings per day
- Low/non-fat milk and dairy products: 2-3 servings per day
- Lean meats (poultry, fish) lentils and beans: 2-3 servings per day
- Age-appropriate amounts of water
Be Smart About Snacking
Pre-packaged sugary, salty treats are hard for kids and adults alike to resist, not only for their flavor but their convenience as well. Although the occasional consumption of candy, popcorn or soda is to be expected, it’s important not to let those food items become the norm in your household.
Children in elementary school need to eat three meals and two snacks or more per day, while pre-teens and teens need three meals and at least one snack per day. This may vary depending on whether or not your child is going through a growth spurt, or is very active in sports.
When providing your kids with snacks, aim for foods that contain both protein and fiber to ensure that they are both filling and nutritious. Consider these delicious and healthy snack ideas per the recommendations of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
- Trail mix: nuts, dried fruit without added sugars, whole-grain pretzels and low-sugar dry cereal
- Low-fat cheese and pear slices
- Reduced-sodium sliced turkey breast wrapped around apple slices
- Low-fat yogurt, fruit and nuts
- Nuts and raisins
- Celery sticks filled with almond butter, sprinkled with dried cranberries and chopped pistachios
- Baked tortilla chips dipped in salsa
- Roasted chickpeas
Set Limits For Sedentary Time
Today, children aged 8 to 18 spent as much as 7.5 hours per day on screens purely for entertainment purposes. When you factor in the amount of screen time needed for school and research for homework assignments, that number climbs even higher.
According to the World Health Organization, reducing childrens’ sedentary time improves their physical and mental wellbeing, and helps to prevent obesity. Experts recommend limiting time spent watching TV, playing video games, and being online for fun (as opposed to distance learning) to no more than 2 hours a day. Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend television for children aged 2 and younger.
The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) has developed an infographic to illustrate how much “screen time versus lean time” children get by age group, and suggests ways that parents can encourage their kids to get up and move more.
Add Physical Activity To Your Family’s Routine
Regular physical activity is important not only for avoiding obesity, it’s also crucial for strengthening bones, reducing stress, and lowering blood pressure. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, preschool-aged children should get at least 180 minutes of physical activity each day, while children and teens from ages 4 through 17 should get at least 60 minutes a day.
A good way to start encouraging your child to move their body more is by modeling the behavior yourself. When children see their parents or caregivers exercising, they are more likely to want to join in or do it on their own. If you’re looking for ways to get your entire family active, start walking the dog as a family, explore parks together, turn on music and do labor-intensive chores as a group, or have a weekly sports night where everyone gets a turn shooting basketball hoops. Here is an extensive list of fun indoor and outdoor activities to do with children.
Make Sure Children Get Enough Sleep
Scientific studies have shown that sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of obesity. This is because insufficient sleep leads to decreased activity levels and increased hunger and calorie intake, with a particular preference for high-carbohydrate and fat foods. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society’s sleep chart has detailed recommendations on how much sleep your child needs by age.
Capital Area Pediatrics offers outstanding, comprehensive pediatric care to families throughout Northern Virginia. We are currently offering telemedicine visits for those who prefer to stay home, as well as touchless check-in to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Our dedicated care team is committed to ensuring the safety and health of children of all ages, from speciality and chronic care services to adolescent health. Request an appointment online or call one of our offices at a location near you.