Childhood obesity is on the upswing

Our kids are getting fatter every year. The latest stats tell us that childhood obesity in Canada has quadrupled in the past 40 years with 30% of our children obese.

How can you tell if your child is at a healthy weight? Click on a calculator designed by the Centre for Disease and Prevention.

Being overweight or obese is known to have a significant impact on both physical and psychological health. As a former childhood chubby I know all too well what being the fat kid felt like. Being teased, bullied, picked on and discriminated against can lead to low self esteem which in turn can hinder how well our kids do in school socially as well as academically.

Not only does childhood obesity play havoc on your child’s psyche it ups your their chances of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, hypertension, fatty liver disease, gallbladder disease, asthma, sleep apnea, and osteoarthritis. Sixty percent of overweight and obese children have at least one risk for heart disease and twenty-five percent have at least two risk factors. Most obese kids become obese adults.

The simplest answer seems to just stick our kids on a diet, but because they’re still growing we need to reduce the rate of weight gain while still allowing normal growth and development. Children and teens should NOT be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a health care provider.

Okay, so we find a doctor, put them on a supervised diet and make them take gym class?

An article published in March 2009 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found there wasn’t a link between compulsory gym classes and a reduction of childhood obesity. Bear in mind the studies they based their findings on did not look at the diets of the students only the activity levels from compulsory gym classes in mostly elementary school children. They did however believe that the solution to this epidemic needs to start at home.

I was that chubby kid who would rather die than get into my gym outfit in Grade 6 and run around with the skinny girls. I knew I was a load and I was totally miserable about it. But my mother never saw it. She had her mommy rose coloured glasses firmly affixed to her eyes and saw me as her wonderful albeit a tad tubby daughter. Thank goodness she took me to our pediatrician early on and as a result made some lifestyle choices in the house that impacted everyone’s health. She switched from full fat to skim milk, changed desserts to fruit only, eliminated second helpings, and signed me up for swimming lessons and more dance classes.

Leading researchers in the field of childhood obesity say that obesity is related to environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and cultural environment. Layman’s terms? It’s where you live, how you live and who influences your eating and activity levels.

Add in how much and what our kids are eating, how active they are, how much time they spend in front of the computer, TV watching or playing video games; basically energy in and energy out. It always comes down to math.

As parents we need to take responsibility for the long term health of our children. The fact is this generation of children is developing heart disease at a rapid rate. So rapidly that they may just be in the Coronary Intensive Care Unit with their parents, not visiting, but as patients themselves.

We need to stop buying empty caloried foods, limit visits to our local fast food restaurants, designate pop as a treat for special occasions, and start serving more fruits and vegetables, drinking more low fat milk, and eating more whole grains. We need to choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for proteins and serve reasonably-sized portions. We need to limit computer time, TV watching and video game playing.

Brian Wansink Ph.D. the guru of portion sizes and the author of Mindless Eating has proven time and time again that whatever we see we eat. It can be cookies, stale popcorn, candies or fruit. Put out healthy fruit and veggies with low fat dip and your kids will eat it. Put out a bag of high fat, high calorie chips and they’ll eat that too. It’s all about you making healthy choices at the grocery store and then offering those choices at home.

Let’s get into the kitchen and teach our kids how to cook healthy foods. Take a class together. Watch a healthy online cooking show. Check out a healthy cookbook, peruse the recipes, make a shopping list, go grocery shopping together and start cooking.

My son started cooking with me when he was 3 years old. As my sous chef in training he started off with washing the fruits and veggies and then worked his way up to making French toast and pasta. He is just finishing his first year of university where he’s been making most of his own meals. My parting words when I left him at his residence last September were, “Try your best, have fun, and eat fruits and veggies everyday.” Once a professional home economist always a professional home economist.

We can make a difference in the health of our children. We can start by encouraging them to eat healthy by becoming the role model of healthy choices. The future of our kids depends on it.

Posted in My Spin on Things

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