Forget the old chestnut that "Big Bobby just needs to grow into his frame.” Overweight kids are four times as likely as their normal-weight peers to grow into overweight adults, according to a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics. And whether kids or grown-ups, overweight people are more prone to diabetes, heart disease, depression, arthritis, back pain and sleep apnea than their peers, studies show. And, as reported in the New York Times, they suffer more taunts and even make less money later on in life, too. Statistics Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada estimate that more than one-third of kids between the ages of two and 11 are overweight, about half of them fitting the “obese” category. Here's how to make sure your kid doesn't become one of them.
Tip 1: Identify if there's a problem
“Fat? Not my kid!” Reality-check time. According to recent U.S. and British studies, parents are often in the dark (or in denial) when it comes to their kids' obesity.
A recent study by the Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, England, published in the British Medical Journal, found 57 per cent of fathers and 33 per cent of moms didn't know their obese kids were overweight. A similar study in the U.S. and published in Obesity Research (and picked up the American Diabetes Association newsletter) found that only 11 per cent of parents in a test group with overweight kids actually recognized that their kids were overweight (meanwhile, 60 per cent of other parents called it correctly).
Find out if your child is overweight by calculating their body mass index (BMI), which measures their body fat by factoring weight, height and gender. Make an appointment with your pediatrician to get this information, and to talk about ways to ensure your child maintains a healthy weight.
Tip 2: Limit your kids' screen time
What's wrong with TV? How about endless junk food commercials, mindless loafing about on the couch, not to mention the dubious content of many shows screened during after-school and primetime hours. Many doctors suggest no more than one or two hours per day. Include computer and handheld gaming time in that allowance of screen-time.
Tip 3: Get kids hooked on water
Water should be your kids' go-to bevvy for thirst quenching. Kids consuming pop, fruit drinks and sports drinks take in more empty calories -– not to mention sodium, tooth-attacking sugar and other unsavoury additives. Vitamin-C-rich 100% juice and low-fat milk are fine options, but neither of them should be doled out like water. As for fruit drinks, pop and sports drinks, consider them liquid candy. For the nursing set, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report that breastfeeding your baby reduces his or her chance of obesity later in childhood by 20 to 40 per cent, with benefits increasing for every month of breastfeeding.
Page 1 of 2 – Find out more tips on how to keep your kids at a healthy weight on page 2.
Tip 4: Don't let teens skip breakfast
Studies have shown that skipping breakfast slows the metabolism – meaning calories are burned less efficiently and are more likely to be stored in the body as fat -- and increases the chance of overeating later in the day. It also harms academic and athletic performance.
Teens are notorious for rushing out the door in a hurry. If they don't want to sit down for breakfast, leave a bowl of cereal bars and bagged trail mix on the kitchen counter (or even the front hall table!) and stock single-serving juice and milk boxes in the fridge so they can eat on the fly.
Tip 5: Model healthy eating habits, Mom and Dad
Your kids idolize you (OK, maybe not so much when they're teens), so lead by example. If you chug back endless sodas instead of water, eat bags of chips instead of healthy snacks or load up on processed foods while skimping on fruit and veggies, you're modelling the food habits they're likely to inherit. (Oh, and teens? They'll pick up on your hypocrisy and tell you where to shove your “Get outside and exercise and eat something healthy for a change” speech.)
Tip 6: Get active as a family
If your idea of quality time is watching movies together while you eat chips on the sofa, you need to make some lifestyle changes. Walk the dog together, go for a bike ride, hit the playground circuit, go for a swim, hike a local trail, shoot hoops in your driveway or even go window-shopping along an outdoor boutique strip. Bonding over electronic media and junk food sends the wrong message to kids.
Family time should, for the most part, be active time (30 to 40 minutes, at least four or five times per week) if you want your child to embrace an active lifestyle – which is a must, given how little daily physical activity most kids get at school these days.
Tip 7: Make fast food less attractive for wee ones
Avoid fast food like the plague. But as everyone knows, it's impossible to ban it altogether. My five-year-old eats McDonald's about once a month (always when Dad's been left alone for the evening, helplessly facing the dual challenges of child-minding and dinner-making). But here's a tip: when your kids are small, separate the toy from the Happy Meal, and dole out the toy later. Not knowing it comes with a Brand! New! Toy! reduces the attractiveness of the Happy Meal by at least 50 per cent. (And less whining equals less caving in and buying them junk food.)
And lastly, consider trading his GameBoy for a Wii or other interactive game
Believe it or not, a recent study in the medical journal Pediatrics notes that interactive games played on Nintendo's new digital console Wii, with players mimicking tennis, bowling, golf or baseball moves in real life (which are picked up by the console's digital sensors), actually aid in weight loss.
The Mayo Clinic, which authored the report, says kids playing on Wii-like devices burned three times as many calories as those using more traditional handhelds. Meanwhile, a team at the University of Toronto is exploring its application in physiotherapy for kids with motor function disabilities. Is it as healthy as old-fashioned outdoor play? Uh, no. But as far as electronic games go, it's pretty impressive.
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