Child obesity is a shared reponsibility

April 05, 2011|Lynn Little

There are a number of reasons why we worry about obesity and children. A major concern is health. The extra pounds make children candidates for what were once considered "adult diseases," such as Type 2 diabetes, elevated blood fats, weight-related asthma and arthritic joints.

Children's weight problems and health issues must be considered a shared responsibility. Both parents and children are key.

Parents' responsibilities include the following:

  •  Choose and prepare food for regular meals and snacks. Children's stomachs are small, so they need to eat regularly. Supplemental snacks are important, but they need not be high in calories or fat.
  •  Make eating times pleasant by setting aside time for meals together and limiting distractions. Turn off the radio or television and let family members, including children, talk about their day.
  •  Model healthful eating habit — eat a variety of foods at meals and snacks, but avoid "grazing" on food or beverages. Children model parents' behaviors, so parents need to try to set a good example.

Children also have a responsibility for eating competently. If parents can learn to provide healthful foods and allow children to choose from those foods, children typically learn to eat competently — to be responsible for how much they eat or whether they eat at all. 

Making an issue of food or forcing children to clean their plate isn't recommended. If a child turns up his or her nose at broccoli, don't make an issue out of it. Wait a few days and offer it again, perhaps in a different form, such as raw broccoli florettes with a low-fat dip.

Involving children in meal preparation can help them learn about healthful foods. When time is short, quick-cook methods, stir-frying a meat and vegetable combination or grilling, can help families get dinner on the table more quickly than it takes to drive to a fast food restaurant. Foods prepared at home typically are lower in fat, sodium and sugar.

Taking a walk or a bike ride after dinner can add healthful physical activity. Indoor games such as the recently revived "Twister" or stretching to music also count as exercise.  Encourage everyone to think of fun things to do to get off the couch, away from TV and computer screens and get moving. Make it fun.

For health, the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend 60 minutes of physical activity each day for children and 30 or more minutes most days for adults.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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