Obesity in children has increased so quickly over the past 30 years that it is now thought of as an epidemic. More than 23 million, or 2 out of 3 children and teenagers are either overweight or obese. And the statistical rates continue to rise. Experts agree that diet and exercise play very important roles in your child’s risk for building up unhealthy weight. This includes a diet that limits sugary carbohydrates, empty calorie drinks, and includes more protein and healthy fats. This is crucial along with a proper exercise program to burn unneeded fat calories and grow strong bones and muscles.
Let’s face it – one of the major reasons that kids love carbs is because, like many of us, they have become addicted to sugar. Carbs in the form of processed breads, chips and sugary cereals break down into simple sugars and kids’ bodies have figured that out. In many households, main sit-down meals have been replaced with small frequent meals and snacks on the go. Instead of a meal, kids look for a quick fix in the refrigerator. This tendency to eat small meals throughout the day has de-conditioned their ability to burn fat—their stable, calm, non-emergency fuel. This contributes to the sugar craze, because not only are they now craving the taste of sugar, but their bodies are relying on it as the main energy source.
When the body is asked to make long trips between breakfast and lunch, and then lunch and supper, it begins to burn fat efficiently. The longest trip was traditionally the one from supper to breakfast. It wasn’t that long ago that supper was as early as 5:30 or 6:00, and after that, the kitchen was closed and kids along with grown-ups fasted from supper all the way to breakfast. During this 13-hour fast, kids reset their ability to burn fat as a natural fuel and then break the fast with breakfast. As a result of being good fat burners, they remained calmer, rarely gained weight, and were not nearly as addicted to sugar as kids are today.
So check in and see what your child is really eating on a daily basis. It is likely that they are consuming more carbohydrates than they need and should be encouraged to try alternatives as much as possible. Older children can and should be educated to seek out healthier foods in their day.
As a parent, you should provide a safe, nurturing, minimally structured play environment for a younger child (toddlers) to participate in daily while limiting TV, video games and computer times. A simple walk in the park or time spent playing with other children in a supervised playground can be fun and healthy.
As a child gets older their needs change too. Encourage activities that focus on physical skill development and movement a minimum of 60 minutes every day, 7 days each week. Emphasize enjoying sports like basketball, baseball, tennis or volleyball as an activity with family members and friends. Running, swimming, dance, bicycle riding and other more vigorous activities are best kept to 3 times a week. Even weight training may be started as long as good supervision and teaching of proper techniques are provided for their age.
Remember children often model adults. You can’t expect your children to embrace exercise if they never see you get off the couch or move away from your TV or computer screen. Stop driving to places that you can walk to. Don’t use the elevator when you can use the stairs. If they always see you moving, your kids will follow your lead. Along with incorporating regular exercise daily, talk about healthy foods, prepare nutritious meals and snacks and help your kids develop habits that last a lifetime.
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