It is no secret that obesity is now affecting our youth in epidemic proportions. Everywhere you turn there are news reports, talk shows and magazine articles discussing the growing numbers of overweight and obese children worldwide. North America and Europe are leading the pack with the number of overweight children continuing to rise. For example, in Canada, the latest statistics are:
• 35 per cent of boys are overweight
• 29 per cent of girls are overweight
• 17 per cent of boys are obese
• 15 per cent of girls are obese
In addition to an increasing number of overweight and obese children, obesity related disease processes once only seen in older generations -- such as Type II diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure -- are beginning to appear in our youth. Overweight and obese children also experience psychological consequences in addition to physical ones. According to a recent study, obese children and adolescents are more than five times more likely to have a poorer health-related quality of life (QOL) than healthy children. In fact, the findings of this study revealed that overweight and obese children rated their quality of life as similar to children undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
What can I do?
In order to effect change, childhood obesity needs to be addressed on many levels including the medical and natural health care world, school systems, and government. The keys to fighting childhood obesity begin with early prevention strategies that include:
Prepare for the snack attack. Children love “grab and go” snacks. Stock your kitchen with healthy “grabbable” food items such as veggies and dip; berries; yogurt; low fat cheese and apples; healthy trail mix; baked nachos and salsa; homemade Popsicles and air popped popcorn.
Eliminate sugary pop and juices. The average can of pop and or sugary juice contains approximately 9-11 teaspoons of sugar. Save pop for a very occasional “out of the house” drink and avoid purchasing fruit drinks labeled as “punches” or “cocktails”. Also, check the label for sugar content. If one of the first ingredients listed on the label is sugar, glucose or high fructose corn syrup, it is likely too high in sugar. Stick to 100 per cent fruit juices watered down or bottles of water to properly hydrate your child without packing on excess calories.
Keep them moving! The average child spends 25 hours per week playing video games, surfing the net and watching TV. The massive amount of sedentary behavior has left little time or room for physical activity. In a nutshell, it is prudent to have your children participate in 1 hour of physical activity daily. Whether it is joining a community center, team sports, bike riding as a family or swimming lessons -- start by committing the entire family to exercise.
Eat a healthy breakfast. A recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology concluded that skipping meals and eating less frequently result in weight gain. Skipping breakfast was linked with a greater chance of obesity. People who skipped breakfast were more than four times more likely to be obese than those who ate breakfast daily.
Do NOT put your child on a calorie-restricted diet. Children do not respond well to a calorie-restricted diet. Often times children sneak food from their parents as a sort of rebellion to the negative pressures of a diet or because they are just plain hungry! The best approach for prevention and effective weight loss is to load a child's diet with the “good stuff” and get rid of the “bad stuff”. For example, a child's diet should be filled with fresh fruits, vegetable, eggs, chicken, fish, whole grain bread, cereal and pasta, nuts, seeds and low fat dairy products. Processed and refined floury items, fast food, and sugar-laden products should be kept to a minimum, and saved for an occasional treat such as birthday parties or holidays.
We must come together to help protect our children from the health and social consequences that comes with being overweight or obese. By implementing the steps above on an all-at-once or one-by-one basis, we can slowly turn the epidemic of obesity into fit and lean, healthy kids for life.
Dr. Joey Shulman D.C., RNCP, is author of Winning the Food Fight (Wiley, 2003) and The Natural Makeover Diet (Jan. 2006). For more information, visit www.drjoey.com.