Childhood Obesity: Why Parents Are to Blame
By Martin Brown
It’s one of the most troubling trends in the current state of the health of our nation: childhood obesity. A particularly troubling condition because the extra pounds they put on now, often put children on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. How do you prevent child obesity?
In certain rare cases, genetic diseases and hormonal disorders can predispose a child to obesity. These diseases, such as Prader-Willi syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome, affect a very small proportion of children. In the general population, however, eating and exercise habits play a much greater role as the root cause of childhood obesity.
Taking a closer look at the problem, it’s easy to see that changes in our lifestyle and diet during the past thirty years have made this health crisis all but inevitable.
First, the issue of lifestyle.
There’s a good chance that as a single mom your child is not only in school from 8 to 3 each day, but probably in an after-school program until five or six every afternoon as well. You come home, have dinner, and then it’s time for homework. During most of the days of the school year it’s dark outside when you get home so going out to play for a couple of hours in the afternoon is no longer possible. There is some outside activity, perhaps, in the afterschool program, but probably not that much. After dinner and homework, there’s time for some TV, computer, or video games and then off to bed.
In recent decades there has been a dramatic decrease in the amount of outdoor activity for kids. TV has 24-hour programming, and when and if they get bored with what’s on TV there is online and video games, and a never-ending lineup of other forms of entertainment from DVDs to music downloads. It’s a world many of us never imagined when we were growing up; a whole world of options available at our fingertips. Unfortunately as our fingers do the surfing, we don’t. And just as Isaac Newton suggested, “a body at rest, tends to stay at rest.” This steady loss of the physically active lifestyle has contributed significantly to the increasing obesity crisis among our young.
Second, today’s changing diets.
Our diets have changed for many reasons, most of which are rooted in how we live today. Whether you’re a single working mom or you’re part of a two adult income household, you get home after a full day of work and you want a prepackaged meal that can be tossed into the microwave and be ready to serve in a few minutes. In spite of our good intentions healthy eating has taken a back seat to convenience. In truth, that need not be the case. In a society where so many vegetables, from carrots, to broccoli, to snap peas come cut, triple-washed, and pre-packaged, we really do have healthy options. As adults we have to lead in putting wise choices before our children for at least the two meals, breakfast and supper, which we prepare for them.
What you can do as a single mom: Begin by setting a good example.
Make sure you eat healthy foods and exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight. Equally important, don’t lay the groundwork for early eating problems by providing or withholding certain foods — sweets, for instance — as rewards or punishments. When it comes to rewards and punishments never make food the issue.
Next, take your child annually to the doctor for well-child checkups.
During this visit, the doctor should measure your child’s height and weight and calculates his or her body mass index (BMI). Increases in your child’s BMI or in his or her percentile rank over one year, especially if your child is older than 4, is a possible sign that your child is at risk of becoming overweight.
It’s up to you to encourage and guide your child on what choices will create a healthy lifestyle. Fresh fruit, oranges, apples, blueberries, pears, bananas, should always be handy in your home. Prepare healthy and sensible meals, and when you do eat out, or prepare prepackaged foods, know what choices you’re making and their impact on the caloric intake of your child.
One very helpful and easy to use guide is Eat This, Not That! For Kids! It gives you dozens and dozens of ideas on guiding your kids in making smart food choices. It shows you the smart menu choices whether you’re eating fast food or ordering off a full menu at a restaurant. It also helps to prepare your kids for the choices they face at the school cafeteria and the unfortunate vending machines that are now found at most schools. Best of all it gives you fast simple menu ideas for great meal choices at home.
What’s critical to remember is that in today’s society between bad food choices and inactivity, becoming obese has never been so easy. We have to take control and lead our children to making smart choices not just for their growing years, but for all the years of their lives.