Your kids: Are they a healthy weight?

By: Sarah Jane Silva

Author: Canadian Living


Your kids: Are they a healthy weight?

By: Sarah Jane Silva
Canada's Physical Activity Guide recommends our kids get at least 90 minutes of physical activity every day. But according to the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card, only 13 per cent are meeting this goal. At the same time, the Canadian Health Measures Survey shows that the rate of childhood obesity and the number of kids who are overweight have risen significantly over the years. For instance, the percentage of boys ages 15 to 19 considered overweight or obese has more than doubled in the past 15 years and now sits at 31 per cent. Teen girls fare only slightly better at 25 per cent.

Even more disconcerting are current studies that estimate that two- to five-year-old kids who are overweight are four times more likely to become overweight as adults. "Preschool obesity is on the rise in Canada," says Dr. Mark Tremblay, chief scientific officer with Active Healthy Kids Canada. "Yet we do not have physical activity guidelines for children five and under."

What can we do to help our kids? Parents need to walk the walk, says Kelly Murumets, president and CEO of ParticipAction. "If Dad walks home from work every day, and Mom loves her own weekend volleyball tournaments, the kids will pick up on that." Murumets offers these tips.

• Commit to 60 minutes of daily physical activity, including strength, endurance and flexibility exercises. You can break this hour up into smaller chunks throughout the day.For example, if your child does something helpful without being asked, let him spend an extra 15 minutes playing outside.
• Read kids' books that emphasize exercising and healthy eating.
• Create family traditions, such as after-dinner walks or regular family baseball or soccer games.
• Include physical activity in family leisure time and vacations.

On average, fitness levels decline through the teen years and are usually lower for girls than boys. You can reverse this trend by teaching your teens that being active is fun. 

A recent study from the British Journal of Health Psychology investigated whether emphasizing the emotional benefits of sports and exercise rather than the physical ones increased a teen's level of activity. Good news: Researchers found that teens are more likely to do a physical activity if they believe it's enjoyable. So focus on the fun factor to get your inactive teens moving.

You can also encourage kids of all ages to get involved in school sports. Research shows there's more than just physical benefits. Youth involved in sports are more likely to eat healthfully and less likely to smoke, use drugs, engage in sexual activity, or feel bored or hopeless.

Page 1 of 2 – Continue to page 2 to learn how to make healthy food choices.
Eating Right
Attitudes toward food and exercise in the home are the social norms that our kids grow up with and accept as their own. This is something Viola Ciebiera, a 33-year-old senior preschool teacher, learned the hard way. "My mom was tough on me about my weight. She would compare me to my older sister, who was skinnier than me. Emotionally that broke me inside," says the Toronto mom of two tweens.

Viola is taking a totally different approach with her kids, opting to educate them on the virtues of healthy eating by stocking the cupboards with nutritious food and making time for regular family meals. "My kids help me choose the groceries and enjoy preparing them," she says. "Physical fitness is also key as long as they participate in something they want to do and enjoy, not what I think is best for them."

Experts say Viola is on the right track. "It's a mistake to constantly talk about physical activity in the context of weight," says Dr. Christine.

Courbasson, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and head of the eating disorders and addiction clinic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. Courbasson believes that one of the worst things a parent can be is judgmental. "Never say to a child, 'You look like you're gaining weight. Maybe you should be more active.'" Instead, focus on having nutritious family meals and planning regular physical activities for the whole family. Here are a few of Courbasson's tips. 

• Plan balanced meals with your kids and go grocery shopping together.

• Cook as a family. Food prepared at home generally has lower sodium and fat content than food from restaurants or prepackaged food. Cooking at home also allows you to introduce different nutritious foods.

• Eat together as a family at the dinner table, not in front of the TV.

• Help your kids learn to recognize their bodies' hunger cues. They should eat when they're hungry, not because they're bored.

• Help them learn how to recognize their bodies' satiety cues as well. They should eat just until they're full, not until they're stuffed or until their plate is empty.

• Don't use food as a reward for good behaviour or a job well done.

This story was originally titled "Healthy Weights, Healthy Kids" in the July 2010 issue.
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Your kids: Are they a healthy weight?