Throughout the past 30 years, childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in the United States. Here is how we can reverse this growing trend:
1. Take it Seriously
Being an overweight or obese child or teen is no laughing matter.
Childhood or teen obesity is a serious disease that can severely affect other aspects of a child’s health. In particular, young people living with obesity are at risk of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, polycystic ovary syndrome and other conditions that have traditionally been ailments that people faced during adulthood. Children and teens with these conditions can suffer from life-threatening cardiovascular events when they become adults including strokes and heart attacks. There is also still considerable social stigma to being overweight and obese young people suffer disproportionately from bullying and exclusion.
2. Drop the Drinks
A Harvard study has linked the presence of sugary drinks in the diet to a child’s chances of becoming overweight or obese. Drinks that contain too much sugar and can contribute to significant weight gain in a short period of time include:
* Juice Drinks
* Energy Drinks
* Fruit Juice
For many American children and teens, the single most important step they can take is to replace the drinks listed above with water or low-fat milk. Removing cola from your children’s diet, for example, can eliminate up to 140 calories per can – all of which is in the form of simple sugars. These sugars disrupt the body’s insulin response system, contribute to tooth decay and can lead to rapid unwanted weight gain.
Even natural fruit juice may pose a risk to those who already have a tendency through genetics and lifestyle to be overweight or obese. For these children and teens, Dr. Amir recommends “eating your calories rather than drinking them”. That means, for example, drinking water and eating a single apple instead of drinking a full glass of apple juice. Drinking water and eating a single apple places less sugar in the bloodstream while delivering more dietary benefits (vitamins, minerals etc.) than drinking apple juice.
3. Replace Screen Time with Physical Activity
Children today, on average, spend a lot less time doing physical activity than previous generations. While there are several factors that contribute to this change in lifestyle, perhaps no factor is greater than the amount of time young people spend in front of phones and computer screens. While there are positive benefits to doing homework and learning online, it is recommended that children and teens stop recreational on-screen activity in order to spend a minimum of 60 minutes of vigorous physical activity per day. This may include running, swimming, or playing a sport such as soccer or basketball. Physical activity helps the body to process insulin and regulate blood sugar, reducing the chances of childhood type 2 diabetes. Also, physical activity strengthens bones and muscles as well as burns calories which contributes to maintaining a healthy weight.
4. Reduce Portion Sizes
Children often pattern eating and drinking habits after their parents. It is recommended to create a family culture of moderation when it comes to food by limiting portion sizes and avoiding “second servings”. The US Center for Disease Control recommends the following tips for developing good eating habits in children:
* Eat slowly—it takes at least 20 minutes to start feeling full.
* Eat at the dinner table only, not in front of the TV or computer.
* Teach your kids to read food labels to understand which foods are healthiest.
* Have meals together as a family as often as you can.
* Don’t insist kids eat all the food on their plates.
* Don’t put serving dishes on the table as this encourages “seconds” and “thirds”.
* Serve smaller portions.
* Reward kids with praise instead of food.
* Increase Water Intake – many times we are really thirsty when we think we feel hungry
“…sugars disrupt the body’s insulin response system, contribute to tooth decay and can lead to rapid unwanted weight gain.”
5. Encourage Kids to Sleep More
Sleeping has been found to have a strong correlation to your ability to maintain a healthy weight. This is no different in children and teens who need up to 16-25% more daily sleeping time than adults. When our kids sleep enough, their bodies’ satiety response (what tells you when you are full) works better. Also, they will be more likely to have the energy needed to perform the recommended 60 minutes or more of physical activity.
Dr. Amir’s Weight Loss and Metabolism Center
Keeping children and teens at a healthy weight can be a complex and difficult process that not all parents are equipped to handle. Even those who understand the basic concept of “calories in and calories out” can struggle with the practical issues of lifestyle and diet. Here at Dr. Amir’s Weight Loss and Metabolism Center we work with people of all ages using clinically proven and medically supervised lifestyle interventions, weight loss technology, meal replacement and sometimes even medication to reduce weight and keep it off in the long term. Our goal is always healthy and sustainable weight loss. If you, your children or your teens are struggling with obesity or with maintaining a healthy weight reach out to us today for an initial consultation by clicking here.