Healthy Kids: A weighty issue

It’s a simple formula and it can sneak up on even the most health conscious of families: more unhealthy food plus less activity often equals overweight kids. Convenience foods in the lunch bags, quick and easy snacks, fast-food dinners and large portions combine with too many hours in front of the TV and computer, and not enough physical activity.

Right now, 35% of boys and 29% of girls in Canada are overweight — and of those, half are obese. As concerned parents or grandparents, these numbers should shock us. Overweight children are not likely to develop into healthy, active adults. Instead, 20 years from now there will be a major wave of obesity and its associated health problems: high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

What can we parents do to ensure our children do not become part of this unhealthy trend? Lots!

But according to the Children’s Exercise and Nutrition Centre at McMaster University, it’s not only up to the overweight child to make the changes and adopt a healthier lifestyle; the entire family needs to do it.

Let’s look at some simple changes you can make, starting now!

Offer better nutrition

• Always have a well-stocked fruit bowl and store washed, cut up veggies for snacking.

• Visit your local health food store and stock up on quick, healthy snacks like soy pudding cups, dried fruit snacks and a variety of cookies and crackers that are healthier alternatives to the typical grocery store varieties.

• Buy naturally sweetened sodas, flavoured water and fresh fruit juices in place of pop.

• Consider supplementing your child’s diet to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need. Try adding a nutritious supplement powder to their beverage every morning, or give them a quality chewable multivitamin.

Boost physical activity

• Walk or bike to your destinations whenever possible.

• Bundle everyone up to take the dog for a walk or mail a letter — make this a time to connect with your kids.

• Set a timer for 30 minutes of computer or TV time — and then turn it off!

• Buy birthday or holiday gifts that promote movement.

• Plan a family activity each weekend, such as swimming, skating, hiking or biking.

Remember, healthy living is a learned behaviour! The most important piece of advice for parents who want to raise healthy, active kids is to be a positive role model.

Sources: Medical Post, Oct 2003; Better Nutrition, May 2001; Circulation 1997;95:2332-2333; “Your Child’s Weight” from USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine (www.bcm.tmc.edu/cnrc/consumer/archives/childweight1.html)