5 ways to reduce childhood obesity

Did you know that 1 in 3 children is obese? Twenty five years ago, only 1 in 25 children were struggling with their weight. What’s changed and what can you do?

childhood obesity

“We are facing one of the biggest health epidemics of our time,” Dr. Mike Apkon, the president & CEO of Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital. This morning, the hospital launched Happy Healthy, a month-long education and awareness campaign about childhood obesity taking place in May. We got the chance to hear a panel of experts speak about childhood obesity and some of the reasons it has become so prevalent. We’re sharing their insights and advice to help you battle childhood obesity within your family and community:

1. Reduce the screen time. Did you know that 43 percent of kids in Canada have a television in their room? First of all, how is this possible? My parents would never have let me have  TV in my room—they didn’t even let us watch TV during the week. It’s just one example of ways that kids are spending more time looking at iPads and video games than they are moving, jumping and running around outdoors. Spending time looking at screens also negatively affects your sleep . Sixty percent of teenagers are chronically sleep deprived (likely due to texting and technology usage late into the night) and this affects their hormonal balances and their food decisions the next day.

2. Police kid’s sleep. I know, this sounds strict and crazy, but studies have shown that even a half hour less of sleep can affect a kid’s decision making and behaviour the next day at school. Setting kids up for success means establishing bedtime routines that allow them ample hours to rest up. If your kids get up at 5:30 a.m. for hockey practise, set an earlier bedtime and enforce it. Find out about children’s sleep needs here.

3. Make exercise a bigger part of your family routine. Sure, if kids participate in phys-ed for an hour at school that will help them hit the minimum 60 minutes of exercise per day but that doesn’t mean that kids can spend the rest of the night in front of the TV. If they are sitting and completely inactive for the rest of the day, that one hour won’t do much for their long-term health. Walk the kids to school, walk to get groceries, take a family bike ride or go for a hike on the weekend. Make getting active a part of your life as well and don’t treat it like a chore—parents should lead by example.

4. Cut the processed food. Everyone’s heard that sugar is the new tobacco. Kids are eating more and more sugar on a regular basis and it’s found in everything from processed foods to juices to store-bought snacks. One cup of juice can have more than your daily intake of sugar for the day. Stick to whole foods, home-made snacks like granola bars, hummus, carrots and whole fruits and don’t be afraid to feed your kids fats. Avocados, nuts and seeds might be high in fat but they will also help satiate energetic kids moreso than a 100-calorie chemical-filled snack pack.

5. Make body image and self-esteem a priority. Body image can be greatly affected by what kids see around them. Do you talk about how fat you are all the time in front of your kids? Do you always talk about dieting during meals? Kids may take time to understand how the food they eat and exercise affect their bodies but giving them a positive self-image is extremely important to help them build the right foundation for making good health decisions in the future. Exercise and team sports can help kids gain an appreciation for physical fitness and getting kids involved in preparing their food can help them see the value in nutrition. Keep an eye out for signs of bullying at school as well, as this may impact how kid’s feel about their developing bodies.

Check out the Sick Kids Happy Healthy campaign, which launched today for more resources and information on battling childhood obesity. What are some of your top tips for keeping your kids on track?

Photography courtesy of thinkstockphotos.ca