Approximately 12.7 million (or 17 percent) of children aged 2-19 years is obese. That number makes up one-third of all American children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of children aged 6-11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012.” The report continues: “Similarly, the percentage of adolescence aged 12-19 years who are obese increased from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent over the same period.”
So how can parents help their children develop and embrace a lifestyle of fitness that will invariably lead to good health habit over their lifetime? First, we have to understand the effects that obesity have on the body and then we can look toward prevention and shaping habits.
The Risk of Staying the Course
When a child or adolescent is obese, they are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. Left unchecked, high blood pressure and high cholesterol lead to arterial damage and heart disease. Obese adolescents have a higher risk factor for developing prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for the development of type 2 diabetes.
Beyond those obvious conditions, obese youth are susceptible to bone and joint problems from maintaining a sedentary lifestyle, sleep apnea from the excess weight placing a strain on the cardiovascular system, and social and psychological problems such as bullying or low self-esteem.
By encouraging healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, parents can lower the risk of becoming obese in developing these conditions and diseases.
Introducing Children to Fitness
In order to help your child, develop a conviction about losing weight and getting fit, your child has to be on board and that starts with a family approach. Do not single out your child, tell her that she need to drop extra pounds, or even mention weight. Let them know that the entire family is going to begin taking its health more seriously and that everyone is going to participate and encourage one another along the way. Then go about setting goals together with rewards for milestones achieved along the way.
Starting a family exercise regimen can be as simple as a daily walk, getting a gym membership, or playing sports together.
According to Stacie Schmidt of the American College of Sports Medicine, focus your child primarily on activities that are low impact. Jogging, for example, is very stressful on your joints and if you carry excess weight you will increase your risk of injury. Top health experts recommend that children and teens participate in at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. But if your child isn’t active now, she will have to build up to that goal.
Here are a few ways to help them gradually increase their fitness:
- Start small. Begin with 10 minutes a day for the first week. Once they can successfully be active on that increment, then add a few minutes every day. Once they begin to taste some success, they will stay motivate and look forward to the time.
- Make it a family affair. As mentioned before, everyone wins and stays encouraged when it’s a group thing. Go on family walks, hikes, or bike rides. Buy jump ropes, kettle bells, and hand weights and work out together. It’s easy to make fitness fun when everyone’s doing it together. You can even try high intensity interval training.
- Dress comfortably. Wearing comfortable, breathable active wear and shoes make continuing your fitness habit easier. Wear shoes appropriate for the activity to prevent knee, foot, or ankle injury.
Caution to Parents
It’s exciting when you see your child or adolescent begin to make positive strides toward a health weight and lifestyle. At the same time, it can be tempting to micromanage, make comments when your child doesn’t make the right food choice, or push them too hard when they get tired during a fitness routine. You’ll want to make sweeping changes to eating habits and entertainment — don’t. Just remember, balance is the key in helping a child maintain a healthy weight, according to the American Heart Association.
When fitness becomes a family tradition, childhood obesity can be eliminated. By helping your kids understand the benefits of being physically active, you ensure that they can enjoy a good quality of life for years to come.