Cracking the Code for Childhood Obesity

Disclaimer: This is a guest post from Dr. Leanne Redman, associate professor of women’s health studies at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. You can get to know her more here and read her first post here. Her facts and opinions are based on her personal research. Red Stick Moms Blog was not paid to promote any specific medical viewpoints or studies. Always consult your physician with any medical questions.

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Remember those whimsical moments as a child? No responsibilities. Imagination running wild. High energy. What you may not remember is a national concern for our children’s weight and the impact it may have on their health and well-being. New challenges can be intimidating, but awareness of the situational factors that may contribute to these problems is key to keeping our kids happy and healthy.

Childhood Obesity-The Statistics

Childhood obesity is an international epidemic, but you don’t have to go far from home to feel its impact. Louisiana ranks in the top ten for the highest rates of obesity in children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that roughly one-third of Louisiana youth are overweight or obese, which is well above the 18% national rate. Childhood obesity is a health concern because children can develop type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Along with obesity, these health problems are risk factors for chronic diseases experienced in adulthood such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and several types of cancer.

Cracking the Code for Healthy Kids and Keeping it Hidden

Grim statistics should not get us down! Healthy habits start at home. As moms we are empowered to positively impact the health of our family as the gatekeepers of nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits. Without breaking the bank and despite our busy schedules, we moms are charged with integrating healthy meals and physical activities into the daily lives of our children with the hope those healthy habits will last a lifetime. Easier said than done, right? Let’s face it, most of the time our children prefer to eat hotdogs over grilled chicken, mac ‘n cheese over brown rice or fruit snacks over a piece of fruit. When our kids are faced with the choice of participation in a sporting team with daily practice versus watching television or playing computer games, technology most of time takes the upper hand and physical activity, the back seat. As moms, we need to outsmart our children when it comes to getting them to adopt habits that can support a healthy lifestyle. One way to sneak in the healthy part is to disguise it.

Here are some pointers for helping to keep our kids metabolically healthy and without them evening knowing it:

  1. Active Play

Where do they get all that energy? This is something to capitalize on while our children are young. At a young age it is much easier to entice the kids off the couch if they know it means playing outside, and especially if playing involves mom or dad! The physical activity guidelines for children and adolescents recommend 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily. In Louisiana’s Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth, 95% of parents think that it is very important that children are physically active, but only about 35% of children and youth are actually physically active.

Pic 1Regular physical activity has tons of health benefits for children including building strong muscles and bones, improving mood, and decreasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Physical activity is important for maintaining a healthy weight because physical activity burns calories. While we don’t often think about our calories when our children are playing, we should because when it comes to preventing unhealthy metabolic conditions – many of which stem from an inactive lifestyle – calories burned in physical activity are key. Physical activity doesn’t have to be the structured exercise we were used to in gym class or competitive sports. Physical activity can be an outing at our great zoo, a family walk or bike ride, or a picnic at the local park.

Baton Rouge has many opportunities for encouraging families to stay active and have fun while doing it. Events such as family laser tag, “A Walk with the Birds” family hike, “Paddle in Pink” in a kayak or paddleboarding among others are offered at BREC parks for less than five dollars. BREC parks also offer playgrounds, splash pads, and walking trails for the community. BREC and the YMCA also offer youth sports in order to keep our kids active. Stay up to date with recent newsletters and leagues on their websites.

Pic 2Did you know that the CDC, provides activity cards for kids and parents that describe the ins and outs of different activities from skateboarding to yoga, tennis and martial arts? The cards describe the activity, how to play, the equipment needed, fun facts and provide links to other relevant websites. If you are looking for more fun games to play with your kids outside, the Activity Corner located on the Kidspot website is a terrific resource. Here you can sort the activities by age group and you will find easy-to-follow instructions for over 100 activities including ‘building a snail farm’, ‘captain ball game’, ‘gift wrap relay race’, ‘reindeer dash’ and ‘sprinkler twister’. Another great resource is kids.gov which shares instructions for both indoor and outdoor games.

As we are starting to think ahead for Christmas gift ideas, a great and inexpensive gift for older children would be an accelerometer or step counter. This is a small and ultra-cool gadget that counts steps or activity. You can use this to teach your children what activities lead to more steps, how their steps differ on school days versus weekend days or how hard they work-out in sporting events. We all know our kids love gadgets, so it’s something unique and fun that is likely to introduce healthy habits!

  1. The Element of Disguise – ‘healthy foods’…

Pic 5Now for the really challenging part for us moms, conquering a healthy diet. The obvious goal is to get more fruits, veggies, whole grains and less processed foods into the bodies of our children. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to this – if our kids don’t eat it, they aren’t getting the nutrition they need. There are few things to remember here. First, kids change their likes and dislikes all the time. Just because you were able to successfully win the battle over the green bean before, doesn’t mean the green bean war is over when Thanksgiving rolls around. Second, it takes 5 or 6 attempts for kids to acquire the taste of a new food. Just because the overly dramatic torture face over broccoli made an appearance after the first and second time, it doesn’t mean we should completely give in and assume our kids will never like it. Third, let them chose from a few healthy choices.

For example, if your child needs to eat more vegetables let them chose between a few such as cucumbers, broccoli, or carrots. Empowering them to make the decision for themselves can lead to triumph for you both! Finally, if we want our kids to eat healthy, we need to be flexible! In other words, try presenting the food you want them to eat in different ways. If the only way carrots are eaten is with ranch, so be it. Of course steamed carrots are better, but we need to be flexible if we want our kids to embrace a liking of healthy foods. Vegetables, whether they are canned, frozen, or fresh, contain important nutrients that our growing children need.

So a few lessons here:

  • Don’t worry if your child doesn’t like a certain fruit, vegetable, or whole grain meal the first time around, be persistent. These habits do not form overnight.
  • If your child has a preference on how they want to eat that vegetable or fruit, try to be as accommodating as possible and prep it in that manner. After all, the intake of healthy nutrients is the goal here. The Fruits & Veggies—More Matters® is a health initiative focused on helping Americans increase fruit and vegetables for better health. They have a fantastic website for parents and educators with healthy recipes, tips for meal planning, healthy meals on a budget, ideas for kids lunches, portion sizes, nutrition database for nuts, entertaining with fruits and vegetables and growing a vegetable garden.
  • Here’s one more idea that I love for kids: Disguising common foods and making them more fun to eat. How easy is it to use regular old cookie cutters as your secret weapon to nutrition? This is an example of a quick and simple way to add a creative to spark to your child’s meal.

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Probably the greatest asset of Fruits & Veggies—More Matters® is the website they developed just for kids http://www.foodchamps.org/ which has games for 2 to 8 year olds, artwork, coloring sheets, fun recipes kids can follow and countless activity pages.

Persistent active play spruced up with a little nutritional creativity can help to improve the health of our kids and who knows it may start to make a difference in the rates of childhood obesity we see here in our State. So let’s have some fun and crack the code to fighting childhood obesity. Healthy habits begin at home!

 

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DR-REDMAN_Jan2012_2_croppedDr. Leanne Redman works at Pennington Biomedical Research Center as an Associate Professor while holding adjunct appointments with the LSU Graduate School as well as the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department of the LSU Medical School. She is a wife to her wonderful and supportive husband, Tim, and mother to their four beautiful children, Jesse 14, Caleb 10, Stella 4 and Emery 3. You can follow Dr. Redman on Twitter @DrLeanneRedman.

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