September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 1 in 5 American children has obesity. Compared to children with a healthy weight, children with overweight or obesity are at a higher risk for asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes and other health conditions. Children with obesity are also more likely to experience bullying, social isolation, depression and anxiety.
While there is no simple solution to addressing childhood obesity, it can be helpful for parents and caregivers to navigate it together as a family. Here are some ways to help your child live their healthiest life without making them feel targeted for their weight.
Family Tips for Preventing and Managing Childhood Obesity
Shop for and Cook Meals Together
Ask your children for input on what to put on the menu each week. Walk the perimeter of the grocery store together to pick out colorful and nutritious new foods to try. Then, involve your children in meal prep and cooking while teaching them about the health benefits and endless possibilities for each ingredient. This can help them develop an appreciation for cooking and inspire them to make healthier food choices on their own.
Reduce Screen Time
This should go for everybody in the family. We spend so many sedentary hours sitting on the couch while watching T.V. or scrolling through our phones. Too much screen time is associated with weight gain, poor sleep and poor mental health. Try keeping meal times tech-free, turning screens off in the hour before bed, and encouraging more engaging activities.
Get Exercise Together
Exercise has benefits well beyond weight control and children need at least 60 minutes a day. To encourage more movement, try going on family walks, bike rides, or playing games together in the yard. Make exercise about having fun and feeling your best, not about losing weight.
Cut Back on Sugar
Most of us, not just kids, eat and drink too much sugar. Hidden sugar is in granola bars, juices, processed foods, coffee beverages, baked goods, condiments and more. Encourage everyone in the family to learn more about what foods contain sugar, what the risks of too much sugar are, and to be mindful of the amount they consume daily.
Encourage Regular Sleep
Children 6-12 years old need 9-12 of uninterrupted sleep each night while adolescents need 8-10. Too little sleep increases the risk for weight gain, poor food and exercise habits, and even mental health problems. Encourage everyone in the family to get more sleep and practice good sleep hygiene. Here are some tips.
- Set a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends.
- Reduce screen time in the hour(s) before bed.
- Encourage physical activity in the day to help with sleep.
Childhood obesity, just like adult obesity, is complex with many contributing factors. As a parent, your job is to be a role model for your child and give them the tools and knowledge they need to make healthy decisions.
Working on habit changes together, rather than isolating your child and emphasizing weight-loss, can help everyone in the family lead healthier lives. Don’t focus on the number on the scale or make comments about weight or size. Instead, put the focus on healthy behaviors that make everyone feel healthy, happy and more confident.
For further reading, check out these resources on childhood obesity: