It seems like childhood obesity is a topic that is mentioned again and again in the media. But unfortunately, it continues to be a topic that is critical for us to discuss, considering more than 23 million children and teenagers in the United States are obese or overweight. What is even of greater concern is that obesity rates for children with disabilities are approximately 38% higher than children without disabilities. With statistics like these, it is essential to make this a frequent topic of conversation.
As September is “National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month,” I thought I would share some ways that all of us as parents or caregivers can help prevent obesity and support healthy growth in our children.
Maintaining a healthy weight has two primary components: engaging in regular physical activity and making healthy eating choices.
The CDC recommends 60 minutes of physical activity a day. To meet that goal, encourage your child to participate in a variety of physical activities. Some children enjoy team sports, while others prefer to do activities on their own. Regardless, there are nearly limitless ways to be active – just take the time to figure out what your child enjoys so that he or she will be more likely to exercise.
The USDA food pyramid is still generally considered to be the best measure for a balanced diet. Some easy suggestions for meeting those guidelines are:
- Always provide healthy food choices such as fruit and vegetables at meals and as snacks
- Offer water as a no-calorie alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages
- Eat moderate portions
Unfortunately, some medications can contribute to weight gain and physical limitations can reduce a child’s ability to exercise. There is no easy fix for these restrictions, but I would suggest you talk to your physician as well as your child’s team at school for their suggestions and ideas on these challenges.
Of course, regular sleep is also an important component of being healthy. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, sleep is proven to improve memory, reduce inflammation, improve grades, and sharpen attention, among other benefits.
On a personal note, Ryan’s exercise regimen began when he was seven. Today, Ryan knows that he feels better when he exercises, so he is the one to wake me up at 5:30 AM to go to the gym … and I’m the one who needs the push to get out of bed! Ryan and I worked for many years to establish a regular pattern of exercising and healthy eating. It’s rewarding to see that Ryan now has adopted these habits and independently makes the “right choices.” I’m so proud of him!