Living with obesity can sometimes be difficult, but it can be uniquely hard for children. As the childhood obesity rate continues to rise in the United States, more children will not only be affected by possible health issues, but also the negative social stigma around weight. This is why it’s increasingly important to focus on and encourage healthy habits for the whole family.
What is obesity?
Childhood obesity is often measured by using percentiles according to a child’s age and body mass index (BMI). However, weight and childhood obesity are much more complicated than just being a result of unhealthy eating and little exercise, so your child’s weight status and diagnosis should ultimately be determined by a primary care provider. Additionally, regular well-child visits from birth to 17 years old can help physicians detect any issues that may contribute to unusual weight gain.
Children affected by obesity are often at greater risk for medical issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea. Unfortunately, they may also face the negative stigma around weight, which often includes bullying and lower self esteem. However, there are small lifestyle changes that your entire family can adopt that can help you and your child move toward healthier (and happier!) lives.
Eat meals together as a family:
First, it’s important to promote and participate in wholesome eating as a family. You can start the day off positively by eating a healthy breakfast together (we love whole grain and hot cereals). You could also invite your children to help you make dinner sometimes, so they can see the importance of healthy ingredients and good nutrition. By eating together at the table, meal time becomes family time, and sharing a meal can help everyone connect without the distraction of work or devices.
Remember to include fruits and vegetables! If fresh fruits and veggies are too expensive or time consuming to prepare, canned and frozen produce is a great option for you. Canned or frozen fruits and veggies are affordable, already prepared, and full of nutrients—they just need to be heated up or cooked! If you’re worried about high levels of sodium in canned vegetables, choose a low sodium option or rinse them before cooking.
Finally, if you need food assistance, there are resources for you. The State of Oregon offers food benefits for those who qualify, and the Marion Polk Food Share provides emergency food boxes at many locations throughout Marion and Polk counties.
Be intentional about being active:
Second, be intentional about being active! Suggest for your child to play sports in school to grow their confidence and teamwork skills. Sign them up for swimming lessons or a dance class at your local YMCA. Teach them how to jump rope, ride a scooter, or use chalk for hopscotch at the park.
Also, encourage the entire family to get moving. Go to your local park and play catch or kick a soccer ball around. Go on walks or bike rides together and explore your neighborhood. If you have a smartphone or GPS, you could try your hand at geocaching. Physical activity as a family can be a great way to spend time together and create meaningful memories.
Fight the stigma around weight:
People of all ages are faced with effects from the negative stigma surrounding weight and obesity. Unfortunately, this also includes children. However, you and other parents can help fight against the stigma, whether your child is affected by obesity or not.
It’s important to be aware of and understand your own feelings and assumptions about weight, and recognize how those attitudes can be communicated to children. Avoid making comments about weight in front of your child, and be intentional with the language you use in other conversations about weight or food. Children learn by example, and they may pick up negative phrases to use against themselves or others. Instead, let them learn positivity and confidence when it comes to weight and self-image.
Additionally, keep an eye out for signs that your child may be targeted for their weight. These signs might include a change in eating habits or overall behavior. Let them know they can come to you for support. Focus on the importance of health instead of weight loss or size, and make sure your child can see success, confidence, and self-esteem in role models of many different sizes. Working together as a family to make these positive lifestyle changes can make a big difference.