In this day and age when modern medicine has been able to increase the life expectancy of Americans, a growing health issue may soon threaten the longevity of today’s youth. Childhood obesity is becoming a health issue in our country, affecting the long term quality of life for many Americans. In 2010, a White House Paper on childhood obesity estimated the direct medical to be at $3 billion dollars. As a result, there is a growing trend to combat this issue and now September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.
Lifestyle changes over the last several decades have contributed to rising obesity. Eating on the run and dining at fast food restaurants is now the norm for the average family. As a result, American households dine on food high in fat, sodium and sugar, increasing the total calories consumed in any given day.
In addition to overconsumption of food, another trend contributing to overall weight gain in both youth and adults is a decrease in physical activity. Both children and adults are less active, decreasing the opportunity to burn off extra calories. Just this week, the International Food Information Council reported the results of a study using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey which identified decreased physical activity as a key factor in the rise of obesity.
Instead of walking and spending time outdoors, kids are driven to school and activities, then spend hours on the computer or watching TV. During the school day, P.E. and recess are often limited and sometimes cut out altogether to make time for academics. Every hour spent in passive activities takes time away from opportunities to be physically active.
Families can be proactive in the effort to maintain a normal level of calorie intake and physical activity. It doesn’t mean everyone goes on a diet and train for a 5K run; it does mean making a conscious decision to make a few changes. Parents and caregivers alike can offer healthier food choices and opportunities for physical activity.
The first step is to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and let MyPlate be the model. Offer a variety of food each day from all of the food groups. Fill your grocery cart with lean protein, whole grains, fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods. Plan family meals and snacks instead of randomly making selections so you consciously serve healthier meals.
Cook more meals at home. Look at the calendar and prepare food when you have a block of time. For example, roast a chicken on the weekend and serve it twice during the week. While the chicken is baking; spaghetti sauce, chili or soup can be simmering on the stove. Food can be divided up and frozen for meals later in the week.
Use snack time as a way to get in servings of different food groups. Forget chips and sugary drinks, besides being empty calories, they are high cost items. Instead, serve fresh fruit, peanut butter on whole wheat bread, raw vegetables with a dip or low fat yogurt. Let kids come up with their own ideas for snacks that fit within the guidelines you establish.
The other component in this national awareness effort is to be physically active. Provide opportunities for kids to get outside and play. Better yet, get outside with them and you’ll be burning calories too. Play a game of ball in the back yard, wash the family vehicles, ride bikes or do yard work.
With little effort, families can make meals healthier and increase their physical activity to help children achieve and/or maintain a normal weight. For more information on nutrition and eating right, contact the Madison County Extension Service.
The University of Florida Extension – Madison County is an Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.