The answer is due to many reasons, including the fact that over 1 in 5 American adults are obese. Parents set the agenda with what food is in the refrigerator and pantry, what is served for meals, and how regularly they, as role models, participate in physically active pursuits. Current statistics show that obese children are more likely to have obesity as adults, which can perpetuate the cycle.
Current research shows that childhood obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The accumulation and storage of lots of excess fat puts a strain on our bodies. Obesity puts our youth at higher risk for many medical disorders, including type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, bone and joint problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up in arteries, has its origins in childhood. Obesity also increases the risk of depression, social isolation, and lower self-esteem, which no parent wants for their child.
The reasons for the astronomical rise in obesity are multifactorial and also highly associated with the amount of sugar that we consume. The current American diet contains too much sugar and processed foods in portion sizes that keep getting bigger and bigger. In our fast-paced lifestyle, it becomes a great effort to prepare fresh food on a daily basis, and the pre-prepared foods that we grab-and-go tend to be less healthy.
Healthy foods don’t have to be expensive if we think ahead. For example, dried beans (soaked overnight) and rice are plentiful and cheap, easy to cook in a slow-cooker while at work, and make a filling and satisfying meal that is just as delicious the next day as left-overs. Serving more fruits and veggies for snacks and meals can help to detox our children from the sugary foods they are used to eating. Try to include plants that still look like plants at every meal, like apples, carrots, or leafy greens, to help get away from the ultra-processed, artificially flavored foods.
Increasingly, it takes extra effort to pursue activities that allow us to move our bodies. We are becoming more sedentary as a country in our jobs and our home lives. We have cars to take us door-to-door, elevators to bring us to higher floors, escalators instead of stairs, machines to wash our clothing and dishes, and sources of entertainment that we can enjoy from our couch. If our children see us avoiding exercise, they are less likely to view exercise as a fun and necessary part of our day.
Children need at least 60 minutes of aerobic exercise every day. Some ideas for families to become more active together include taking a walk after breakfast and after dinner. Families can sign up for a walk/run for charity and practice for it together. They can take their dog on an extra-long walk. When watching TV together, families can take fitness breaks during commercials in which they do wall-sits, push-ups, squats, planks, abdominal crunches, and jumping jacks. Even better would be to turn off the TV after watching a favorite 30-min show, turn on music, and do exercises together for 30 minutes.
The ultimate goal is not about having skinny kids. But rather to be healthy, have optimal energy, feel vital – and live a long, happy productive life.