Childhood Obesity: Our Role as Parents and Caregivers

By: Tanvi Maharaja

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness month. According to CDC, the prevalence of obesity was 18.5% and affected about 13.7 million children and adolescents. Obesity prevalence was 13.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds.

These numbers are on the rise as seen here. While gender differences are not found, it is worth noting that the highest trend has been noted in the older age group, i.e., 12 to 19 year olds. These are our middle school and high school kids.

Image: Healthy Caribbean Coalition
What can we, as parents, do to change these trends for the better?

Children follow by example, so the first and most logical step would be to change eating habits at home and set an example in healthy eating. For me, this starts with grocery shopping. The less junk I buy, the less junk I am likely to eat. I usually shop after I have had a meal so I do not succumb to the hunger-shopping syndrome. I also buy fruits, vegetables, and dairy first so my cart is pretty full; and I am less likely to buy things that may not be best for my health. I allow myself one piece of “unhealthy” food a week in order to curb my urges! When kids see you make a conscious effort to shop and eat healthy, they are more likely to follow suit.

The other thing I pay attention to and discuss with my family when I am shopping is the nutritional value of foods. We try to stay away from foods with high sugars, high fat, and high calories per 100gm. This is an important factor in our decision-making process.

It is hard for kids to not give in to the trends of eating what is constantly talked about in TV shows and in the media- pizza, mac-n-cheese, candies, cookies. One way of getting around this is making these meals healthier by adding nutritional items to it. Also, if these are not stand-alone meals, but are accompanied with veggies or a fruit salad on the side, it might improve the health quotient of the meal.

The other thing I have learned is not being too strict about having the occasional treat, because that can backfire spectacularly, especially if you have a rebellious toddler/teenager. This kind of negative reinforcement does not help and only makes the treat more tempting.

What have you tried to encourage healthy eating in your family? Let us know!

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