Every child is perfect in his or her parents’ eyes, which is what makes solving the childhood obesity crisis exceedingly difficult. Parents don’t want to see the flaws in their own children, even when those flaws are leading to disastrous effects on their children’s present and future health.
Unfortunately, overweight and obese children are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease while young, and the excessive weight puts damaging strain on bones and joints, which can cause improper growth. What’s more, most of these children will grow into overweight and obese adults, which puts them at heightened risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and several types of cancer later in their lives.
While schools and governments scramble to address the growing problem of childhood obesity, the real responsibility for thwarting the epidemic’s progress lies with parents, who have the power to instill healthy outlooks regarding diet and exercise early in life. Here are a few ways parents can encourage their children to develop healthy habits from the start as well as a few tips and tricks to get less motivated children moving more.
Children begin learning much sooner than we send them to preschool; in fact, some studies claim that babies are forming connections even before birth. Still, the window of easy acquisition begins to close around 10 years, which means that education is more difficult after this time. This simply stresses the importance of teaching children about their health early in their lives.
Children learn about the body’s systems, with most memorizing main bones and organs in elementary school, but rarely do teachers emphasize how diet and exercise impact these systems. Parents can introduce these ideas at home. For example, children know that the skeleton provides internal structure for the body, and parents can supplement this with facts about how calcium and vitamin D foster bone growth and the stress of physical activity makes bones stronger. If kids understand the exact ways exercise can improve their lives, they will be more likely to participate.
Just as important as the facts about healthy living are the emotions that it develops. Often, sedentary children become angry or depressed by the idea of restricting their favorite foods and becoming more active. Still, parents must be able to explain that a healthy lifestyle will provide mental benefits, like better self-esteem and confidence, as well as less potentially less obvious physical ones.
Exercise isn’t all about running in circles on the track or lifting heavy weights for hours on end; exercise can be incredibly fun, especially for children. Simple childhood games like tag and Twister require intense physical activity. Here are a handful of games that effectively and enjoyably disguise their inherent physical exercise:
- Jump rope
Simple gymnastics, like handstands, flips, and cartwheels
Various races, like three-legged, potato sack, or wheelbarrow
Playing sports, like soccer or kickball
Children who enjoy group play may be more inclined to be active with sports that require teams, whereas kids who enjoy playing with technology, like video games, may prefer activities that require some kind of gadget. Playing fitness games on consoles like the Nintendo Wii or the Xbox with a Kinect can satisfy a kid’s technological urge, or even walking with a pedometer to track progress can fulfill the desire for gadgetry. The goal is to find an activity that feels more like fun than work, which will get kids active without complaint.
In almost everything they do, children need support from their parents, and building healthy habits is no different. Parents who see their children maintaining a positive diet and activity level should show their approval in appropriate ways. For example, children who frequently practice sports will feel more fulfilled with an award, either earned through competition or provided by proud parents. This award may be a trophy, or it may take the form of a coveted gift.
Parents who are just beginning to institute a health regimen should frequently check in with their children to understand how they are feeling. As previously stated, sedentary kids may not respond at first with enthusiasm to changes in lifestyle. It is especially crucial to maintain a good attitude and your own healthy habits to demonstrate the positives of the instituted alterations.
Additionally, these children may benefit especially from rewards; though they may not initially be striving for healthy change and instead be working toward gifts of words of encouragement, they will eventually become accustomed to healthy living and continue with diet and exercise into adulthood.
How do you keep your kids up and running?