The statistics about obesity in America are grim. Recently, an important government report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) warned about the grave public health problems associated with rising obesity rates among adults and children and recommended that our nation take collective action now. The report called on industry groups, businesses, schools, health care providers and governments, among others, to adopt strategies to achieve the following goals:
- Integrate physical activity into everyday life
- Increase the availability of healthy food and beverage options.
- Change how nutrition and physical activity are marketed.
- Make schools a focal point for obesity prevention.
- Encourage employers and health care professionals to support healthy living.
Parents have a big role to play in preventing obesity by teaching their kids smart eating and exercise habits early in life and by modeling healthy behavior. To help parents develop strategies that work for their families, Beccastone asked a few of our parents what they do to encourage healthy habits.
The IOM report recommends making water available at all times to discourage drinking sugary sodas and juice drinks. A mom told us that she purchased an inexpensive but colorful water bottle for her child to take to school and other activities. The child even decorated the water bottle with stickers of her favorite cartoon characters. She carries it with her to school and on the bus and sips from it throughout the day.
Several moms said one of the ways they have improved their kids’ diets is to make sure they eat breakfast so they get off to a good start. Among the foods those moms mentioned as good breakfast choices that appeal to their kids are: oatmeal with fruit; low-sugar breakfast cereal and 2% milk; whole wheat bagels or English muffins with peanut butter and bananas; toasted waffles with fresh fruit; and yogurt with honey and with granola. Another mom said she always puts extra snacks in her kids’ backpacks in case they get hungry after school. This mom buys in bulk and puts snacks in small plastic bags so she can control portions and save money. Good snacks are foods like low-fat string cheese; unsalted nuts; peanut butter and crackers; fruits such as apples, grapes, and cherries; dry cereals (Cheerios and granola are popular); and yogurt. Eating regularly also prevents kids from getting too hungry and then overeating at the next meal.
An activity that is growing in popularity and combines exercise, nutrition and even a little science is vegetable gardening. Families that don’t have access to a plot of ground can use plant containers to grow herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers. There are special plant varieties that grow well in pots. Kids enjoy eating what they have grown and might even get interested in learning how to cook meals using their homegrown herbs.
Kids spend most of their waking hours at school and the IOM report notes that many schools have vending machines that do not offer healthy snacks and drinks. Parents may be able to request that the school offer better choices or, if that’s not possible, ask the school to remove the vending machines altogether.
Several moms said they had made a conscious effort to learn more about nutrition so they could teach their kids to read and understand the labels on food and how to interpret portion sizes. They were surprised to discover that the labels often described calories and nutrients for portions much smaller than they or their kids were consuming. Reading labels and estimating portions put math and reading skills to practical use so the exercise serves multiple purposes. Mothers also talked about teaching their kids to make healthier choices at restaurants by reading menus more carefully and looking for any nutritional and calorie information about menu options.
The IOM report urges advertisers to change the way they market to children and adolescents and to market only foods and beverages that support a diet following the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans (for example avoid foods high in sugar, fat and sodium and replace them with fruits, vegetables and whole grains). Some parents of younger kids told us that they actively monitor the television programs their children watch and either avoid programs with a lot of advertising for candy, sodas and overly sweetened foods, or talk to their kids about the bad effects of that kind of food and alternatives that are available. It’s harder to monitor viewing habits of older kids, but some parents said they still talk to their teens and pre-teens about how and what to eat in order to counter the messages they may be exposed to via the media.
The IOM report says kids should have at least 60 minutes of exercise per day and notes that very few schools meet this minimum requirement. So that means parents or caregivers should check to see what level of exercise their kids are getting at school and after school activities and decide whether they have to supplement a child’s exercise routine. Walking is an easy way to add more exercise to daily activities. One mom told us that she and her neighbors started walking with their kids to school every day and walking to more activities like church and the grocery store. It’s also nice to just take a walk with your child, especially in the summer when days are longer and schedules can be more relaxed.
These are just a few ideas that parents might use to give their child the best chance of growing up healthy and staying that way. There are more very good ideas and information at a website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services here. Please share with other Beccastone parents your thoughts on raising healthy kids by posting a comment on this article.