Tips for Combatting Childhood Obesity

By Rich Gustafson, MD

Although we are fortunate to live in a comparatively very healthy state, Colorado still has many families that struggle with overweight and obesity issues. The reasons for obesity are numerous, and the risks to health are very real, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, poor self-esteem, and increased bullying risk, just to name a few.
Every day I work with families to help educate and empower them to make healthy diet and activity choices. I am confident that I could eliminate two-thirds of childhood obesity if I could ban just two things: sugary drinks (soda, juice, sport drinks), and video games (non-academic screen time).
To combat obesity, permanent lifestyle changes have to take place in the entire family. We usually do not want children to lose weight, but rather focus on healthy lifestyle choices that will slow weight gain. It’s incredibly important for parents to role model healthy lifestyles.
Here are my top health tips to prevent, and to treat, obesity:

1) Minimize sugary drinks (this also means juice). General recommendations are no more than once weekly. An exception is a small glass of calcium-fortified orange juice with a meal for those with calcium-deficient diets.

2) Minimize non-academic screen time. The AAP recommends less than an hour a day.

3) Involve your children in shopping and cooking. For ideas, check out this great blog post about cooking with your kids, written by Kara Lampe, PA-C, one of our physician assistants.

4) Have routine/scheduled family activity or exercise time. Exercise does not need to be strenuous to benefit your cardiovascular health. Walking the dog, working in the yard, or going for a bike ride are all things families can do together. Step counters are all the rage right now, and walking/running competitions with your kids are a great way to motivate them to exercise.

5) Attempt to eat as “close to the ground” as possible -- meaning the closer it comes from being directly off the plant (as opposed to the manufacturing plant), the better. For example, the fruit or vegetable itself is much better than its juiced or packaged form.

6) Practice moderation. Especially with holidays approaching, it is okay to enjoy the whip cream on the pumpkin pie.

7) Create a good environment to eat healthy food. Even if it is not possible to have family meals, attempt to minimize grazing one to two hours prior to meals so that children will come to the table hungry. Avoid distractions like watching television while eating. Also, try using a large plate with small portion sizes so it appears there is less food on the plate. And although we do not like to make food a reward for good behavior (risking food becoming a reward itself), bribery during a meal is okay. For example, with younger children, you might state that “The mac and cheese really wants to see more broccoli in your tummy, so when you take another few bites of broccoli, you can have more mac and cheese.”

8) Create plate dynamics. Have at least one fruit, vegetable, protein, and something else (grain) on everybody’s plate. Fruits and vegetables should occupy half the space, and try to introduce several colors.

9) Provide healthy snacks. Having good options available is really important. Cheese, dips, peanut butter, etc., can make fruits and vegetables more appealing and tasty. For example, you might create “ants on a log” -- peanut butter filled celery with raisins along the top.

10)  Sneaking in nutrients is a valuable option (especially for those picky eaters). Although it is still very important to expose your child to the real thing, blending vegetables into smoothies or finely chopping them into marinara sauce or cheesy eggs are other alternatives.

11)  Fats are okay, but try to reduce the carbs. Fats and proteins make good snacks because they are filling. With high carb snacks, people tend to need more calories to feel satisfied. Educate yourself and your children about the difference between good fats (from vegetables and fish) and bad fats (from animals and processed foods). Children are growing so fast that if there is no severe heart health family history, they can have lots of cheese, yogurt and butter. However, guacamole, peanut butter and olives/olive oil are even healthier choices.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns about your child’s eating habits. Remember, tip #6 -- practice moderation -- and enjoy the holiday season!
Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Posted: 11/16/2015 11:43:55 AM by Vickie Finney | with 0 comments
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