Help Your Child Avoid the Health Risks of Obesity

Help Your Child Avoid the Health Risks of Obesity

Helping kids stay active can be hard. Making sure they eat healthy foods isn’t easy either. But it’s more important than ever.

About 1 in 7 young people ages 10 to 17 in the U.S. are obese, according to a 2020 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation leaving site icon (RWJF).

Early signs point to the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in the increased risk for obesity. Some children have lost access to healthy food. And they haven’t had as many chances to be physically active. Those things can raise a child’s risk for obesity, says the RWJF report, State of Childhood Obesity: Prioritizing Children’s Health During the Pandemic. leaving site icon

Childhood obesity is a serious health issue. Those early extra pounds often start children on the path to future health problems. They can also have health issues while they’re still young that were once adult problems, like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Childhood obesity can also lead to other harmful issues, like depression and low self-esteem.

Encouraging your kids to eat healthy foods and stay active can help. It’s important to make both a priority from an early age. And be sure your child gets enough sleep. Too little sleep may raise the risk of obesity.

Help Make Healthy Eating a Lifelong Habit

One of the most important things you can do is set a good example. Make healthy eating a natural part of everyday life for everyone in the family. Everyone will benefit.

It’s also important to make healthy eating easy. Have healthy snacks on hand. Try popcorn without butter, fruits, low-fat yogurt, cut vegetables with hummus or whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk. And don’t keep unhealthy snacks around the house. Again, everyone in the family will benefit.

Some other tips:

  • Limit sugar. The latest dietary recommendations leaving site icon call for children under age two to eat no added sugar. For kids over 2, limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of their calories for the day.
  • Offer new foods to try. It may take time before your child likes new things, so don’t give up too soon.
  • Choose nonfood rewards. Skip giving candy or other sugary treats for good behavior.
Add More Action

How much activity children need depends on their age. Preschool children should be active throughout their day. Encourage play activities that get them up and running around.

School-age children (6 to 17) should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to high intensity activity each day. A good game plan is a mix of activities. Three types of physical activity should be included each week. 

  1. Aerobic Activity
    Make the most of that 60 minutes with aerobic activities each day. Encourage walking, running, biking, jumping rope or anything that makes them breathe hard and their hearts beat faster.
  1. Muscle-Strengthening
    Include muscle strengthening activities, like climbing or doing push-ups, at least three days per week. These activities are part of your child’s daily 60 minutes.
  1. Bone-Strengthening
    Aim to work in bone-strengthening activities, like running or jumping, at least three days per week. These activities are also part of the daily 60 minutes.

It’s important to make being active a part of their normal, everyday life. The CDC suggests:

  • Starting early. Young children love to play and be active. Support movement and play to build a strong base.
  • Setting a good example. What your kids see you doing has a big impact.
  • Adding activity to your family’s daily routine. Try family walks or playing active games.
  • Providing equipment that encourages physical activity.
  • Taking kids to parks where they can run and play.
  • Being supportive when your child is active. And rally them to try new activities.
  • Making workouts fun. Have kids try team or single sports. Even walking or running or riding a bike can be more fun if they do it with you or their friends.

Whatever activities they do, keep your kids safe. Make sure they wear helmets or other needed safety gear.

You can also help kids avoid developing sedentary habits, like watching TV or playing video games every night after dinner. Limit screen time and help your child find fun activities to do instead. They can play on their own or with friends and family.

Be sure your child sees the doctor for a well-child health exam at least once a year. That’s a good time to talk about healthy eating and getting enough activity.

Be Prepared for Your Child’s Diabetes Questions

You likely know some of the roles you will need to take on when the doctor first tells you your child has diabetes. You’ll need to closely watch what your child eats and how much exercise your child gets.

But helping children understand the disease and its impact on their lives is also important. Being prepared for their questions is vital.

“Be sure to talk to your child in an age-appropriate way and to always tell the truth. And don't be put off by your child's questions — answering them can help you learn more about diabetes, too,” says leaving site icon

When answering questions, make sure your child knows that:

  • They can talk about it and that it’s good to talk about it openly
  • Having diabetes is not their fault
  • It isn’t going away
  • It’s OK to feel sad or upset about it
  • They can count on you to help them
  • They can get their diabetes under control

Parents also need to make sure their children get the help they need when they’re not at home. Talk to your child’s doctor to build a plan. Reach out to their school. And help your child understand how teachers, school nurses and others can help them handle their diabetes.

Sources: One in Seven U.S. Youth Have Obesity, Newest Data Show, leaving site icon Impact‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌COVID-19 Pandemic‌ ‌on‌ ‌Childhood‌ ‌Obesity‌, leaving site icon Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2020; Childhood obesity, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2020; Top 10 Things You Need to Know About the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, leaving site icon Dietary Guidelines for Americans; How much physical activity do children need?, leaving site icon Making Physical Activity a Part of a Child’s Life, leaving site icon Managing Diabetes at School, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021; Talking to Your Child About Diabetes, leaving site icon, 2018